College Road Trip (G)
Martin Lawrence is an overprotective Chicago dad trying to hang on to his Georgetown-bound daughter in College Road Trip, a thin family comedy that doesn’t offer much to the families that might watch it.
Chicago police chief James Porter (Lawrence) has always wanted his daughter Melanie (Raven-Symoné) to go to Northwestern University. He figured out when she was a baby that he could get to the school from his home in less than 30 minutes — key to his plan to continue to watch her like a hawk. But Melanie isn’t so keen on sticking close to home; she wants to go to Georgetown University and enter a pre-law program that could eventually take her to Japan for a semester. She gets one chance to impress the Georgetown admissions board and decides to join her friends on a road trip east. Chief Porter, of course, is having none of that. He decides to drive her himself (with a side trip to Northwestern, naturally) in hopes of finding a way to change her mind. Daddy and daughter hit the road, clearly set to drive each other nuts, when they discover even more of the family is along for the ride — younger brother and science nerd Trey (Eshaya Draper) and his freakishly smart pig have smuggled themselves into the SUV.
Yeah, that’s right, “freakishly smart pig.”
A good G-rated movie is hard to find. Heck, a mediocre doesn’t-give-the-parents-headaches G-rated movie is hard to find. So I appreciate movies that the whole family can watch together. But in the case of College Road Trip, I can’t imagine who in the family would want to watch. Despite the pig, the movie is too focused on the dad-daughter relationship to satisfy slapstick-hungry elementary schoolers. But this is a little-kid-proof comedy, not Juno, so there is little in the way of real parent-kid relationship humor that would make this movie interesting to adults. This is a movie full of the most benign 8 p.m. sitcom situations but we don’t have the kind of history with the characters that we would with the weekly TV show.
Were this a TV show, it might actually work as the kind of family comedy that people always claim they want. Lawrence is pleasant enough and so is Raven-Symoné. They have decent enough parent-child chemistry — both of them having come from TV comedy environments is probably what makes them particularly deft at mixing real-enough emotions and rubber-faced reactions. Were a network to schedule this show for, oh, let’s say 8 p.m., followed by maybe Everybody Hates Chris and Aliens In America (two other family comedies — together you’d have three half hours that get progressively smarter and older in humor), I could see coming to tolerate and perhaps even enjoy the Porter family. Raven-Symoné looks a little more like a normal girl than the Barbies of Gossip Girls. (I know it can seem cheap to comment on a young actress’s appearance or weight but it really is refreshing to see a high school girl character who isn’t stick thin and dressed like a dancer in a music video.) Porter mom Kym Whitley seems like an actress who wouldn’t vanish into a standard sitcom mom role of exasperated sighs and weary looks. There’s even hope for the one-dimensionally nerdy Trey and his pig. (I’m going to completely ignore the comic relief role of even-more-eager-parent filled by Donny Osmond. It’s for the movie’s own good.)
But that would be on TV, where you can build these characters into people with back stories and personalities. Here, there’s no time to make us really care so the movie falls back on broad jokes and aggravating slapstick. College Road Trip feels like a movie that went out of its way to please everyone and thusly will please no one. C-
Rated G. Directed by Roger Kumble and written by Emi Mochizuki, Carrie Evans, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, College Road Trip is an hour and 23 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Buena Vista Pictures.