A protective father, James Porter (Martin Lawrence) is reluctant to allow his daughter Melanie (Raven-Symone) a chance to attend college at Georgetown, located over 700 miles from the family home. When Melanie is invited to speak to the admissions council at the last minute, James refuses to let the child travel with friends, taking her, son Trey (Eshaya Draper), and pet pig Albert on a road trip to help restore frayed bonds, but also to keep a close eye on his beloved daughter. It doesn't take long for the vacation to turn into a nightmare, leaving James in a permanent state of panic as he fights to keep Melanie on a leash, deal with fellow strident parents (Donny Osmond), and confront his own growing sense of empty nest syndrome.
Roger Kumble directed "College Road Trip." This is same man who created smut like "Cruel Intentions," "The Sweetest Thing," and "Just Friends," and now he's at the helm of a G-rated Disney family comedy? Perhaps that's why "College" feels so overprocessed and shrill. It's clearly the work of a man attempting to alter the course of his dying career, only to rely on ineffective instincts for a genre he should be kept away from. Kumble is bad with cute and cuddly.
However, blaming the director for the entire cringe factor of "College" is unfair. The screenplay (credited to four writers) is a hodgepodge of slapstick, melodrama, more slapstick, and "one to grow on" sentiment, piled punishingly high and rendered flavorless by the Disneyfication production process.
The cast is just as shameless, with every participant leaping about like their pants have caught fire. While I admit to enjoying Lawrence when busts out his panic button, Raven-Symone pitches her acting to the rafters, taking every horrible habit she's nurtured on the Disney Channel and splashes the big screen with her obnoxious, questionable eye-bulging and 10-chin double-takes. "College" even permits her a musical number just to loathe the performance even more.
The less said about Donny Osmond the better, though I will write that he's astonishingly well-cast as the constant annoyance of the story.
Thematically, "College" wants to discuss the misery of parents forced to let their children become adults. It's a tender topic, yet nothing resembling a human emotion is allowed near the picture. All that's offered are repetitive scoring cues (separated into two categories: "sad" and "fall down and go boom") and saccharine, tear-jerking screenwriting that's far too coldly calculated to penetrate the ill will clotting up the rest of the picture.
While the novelty of seeing Martin Lawrence trying to neuter himself to meet G-rating expectations is an undeniable curiosity, "College Road Trip" pushes too hard on the wacky button, to a point of full sensorial meltdown. There are only so many food fights, pig-hopped-up-on-caffeine gags, and brutal Raven-Symone improv that one person can take before madness sets in.