August 9, 2007

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Daddy Day Camp (PG)
Cuba Gooding Jr. — yikes. It’s a sentiment regular movie-goers often express and one that only deepens with Daddy Day Camp, an inexplicable, awful movie from beginning to end.

Pearl Harbor, Rat Race, Snow Dogs, Boat Trip, Norbit, Radio — you have to go back to As Good As It Gets to find a mainstream movie with a watchable Gooding performance. And why? Gooding is charismatic enough, handsome enough. What has made his résumé so cursed? Does he have some medical problem that prevents him from saying no to the utter dreck that is a fiasco like Daddy Day Camp?

Charlie Hinton (Gooding) opened a day care center several years ago with his friend Phil Ryerson (Paul Rae) when the pair found themselves jobless and in need of childcare. (It was so many years ago, in fact, that they were Eddie Murphy and Jeff Garlin.)

Now, their kids Ben Hinton (Spencir Bridges) and Max Ryerson (Dallin Boyce) are old enough to be summer day camp-bound and Charlie and Phil decide to send them to their old campgrounds. The old camp, however, is falling apart and all the kids have headed to a fancy new camp run by Lance Warner (Lochlyn Munro). Ben and Max are supposed to go there too but Charlie soon realizes that Lance is his sworn enemy from Charlie’s own days at camp. So Charlie does the only logical thing — he buys his old camp and tries to give his son and the handful of other children who stick the summer out at Camp Desperation an old-fashioned day camp experience, even as Lance and his well-outfitted horde are trying to take it over. Charlie and Phil have to find a way to repair the facilities, keep the bank from foreclosing (on the camp and on Charlie’s house, which is collateral for the loan to buy the camp), find more paying campers and beat Lance at the big multi-camp Olympiad.

There are several insurmountable logic hurdles in the basic plot of this movie:
• What, nobody needs the Daddy Day Care during the summer? Their customers are working parents and they can’t all have the summers off.
• Buy a broken-down camp with a second mortgage on your house? Who does that?
• Especially if the camp has no working bathroom.
• And with the purpose of competing against a loon who peaked in middle school.
• And Phil, Charlie’s partner, agrees to this why?

And that doesn’t even get to the whole Charlie’s-unresolved-issues-with-his-father subplot, which absurdly plays itself out when Charlie’s Marine dad, Col. Buck Hinton (Richard Grant), shows up to help Charlie teach the kids leadership and self-reliance and what poison ivy looks like.

All this implausibility and poor story construction doesn’t really leave the actors or director Fred Savage (that’s right, take a moment to consider) much to work with. So they don’t. Gooding takes every emotion and plays it big and hysteria-packed. The rest of the actors just seem happy to be employed and do as little as possible. Add in the fart jokes and the circus-like score and you have a perfect storm of hacky storytelling and irritating, unfunny gags. Or, as such a mess is also known, another Cuba Gooding Jr. movie. D

Rated PG for mild bodily humor and language. Directed by Fred Savage and written by Geoff Rodkey, J. David Stem and David N. Weiss (from a story by Rodkey, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow), Daddy Day Camp is 89 minutes long and is scheduled to open in wide release on Wednesday, Aug. 8. It is distributed by Sony Pictures.