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Dustin Putman

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College Road Trip  (2008)
1 Star
Directed by Roger Kumble
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Raven-Symoné, Kym E. Whitley, Donny Osmond, Molly Ephraim, Eshaya Draper, Brenda Song, Margo Harshman, Arnetia Walker, Lucas Grabeel, Eugene Jones, Will Sasso, Geneva Carr, Josh Meyers, Joseph Gannascoli, Tara Copeland, Mike Hodge, Michael Landes, Kristian Kordula, Na'Kia Bell Smith, Vincent Pastore.
2008 – 83 minutes
Rated: Rated G (nothing objectionable).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 6, 2008.
There is an honest, touching and even funny film to be made about a loving father having a difficult time letting go when his daughter starts preparing to move away to college, but "College Road Trip" isn't it. This shrill, chaotic, mass-market drivel is the kind of absent-minded family film that gives thoughtful, worthwhile family films a bad name. According to plentiful screenwriters Emi Mochizuki, Carrie Evans, Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (the latter two responsible for 2002's "The Santa Clause 2"), the way to create characters is to start with a broad stereotype or caricature and then go no further in developing them, while according to director Roger Kumble (2005's "Just Friends"), the way to depict them is as screeching, over-the-top fools with what would appear to be psychological problems. There are precious few moments where anyone acts like a person from this planet, yet we as the audience are supposed to laugh simply because they're all so wacky and wild. It's insulting.

Chicago police chief James Porter (Martin Lawrence) may be well-trained in law enforcement, but he's not nearly as learned when it comes to dealing with the thought of daughter Melanie (Raven-Symoné) choosing a long-distance college to go to. James would like nothing more than for Melanie to go to nearby Northwestern, but she has her heart set on Georgetown University. When Melanie earns an interview from the prestigious D.C.-based school, James decides to take her himself and make a bonding road trip out of it. Once on the actual road, however, their journey turns into a series of—wait for it—comic misadventures. Along the way, James must come to terms with the fact that his baby girl is growing up.

Short, overstuffed and obnoxious, "College Road Trip" fails to take heed of the valuable "less-is-more" adage, and so, instead of a pleasant, bittersweet comedy about a father-daughter relationship, we get a loud, birdbrained farce that frequently pays more attention to the antics of a totally superfluous pet pig as it ransacks a wedding and gets hyped up on too much caffeine. Why is there a pig in this movie? Why does Melanie's little brother Trey (Eshaya Draper) stow away in the car and tag along on the trip when he adds absolutely nothing to the story? Why does the intelligent and ambitious Melanie hang around with two airheaded friends (Brenda Song and Margo Harshman) who speak in unison and are bereft of individual personalities or, really, any personality at all? Why does Melanie's feisty grandmother (Arnetia Walker) desperately hide her own vibrant senior friends in shame when Melanie and James pay her a visit? And, while we're at it, why does the urban Georgetown University look like it's located in rural Pennsylvania, complete with rolling hills and lush, wide-open fields of green? Why, why why?

After gaining some of my faith back with his understated turn in the recent "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins," Martin Lawrence throws it all away here with a performance that isn't just misguidedly antic, but downright painful to watch. He overacts to such a degree that he might as well be attached to marionette strings. In her inaugural bid for big-screen success following the end of her hit Disney Channel series "That's So Raven," Raven-Symoné (2001's "Dr. Dolittle 2") has energy to spare, but relies too heavily on animated facial expressions to get her point across.

As another college-visiting father-daughter team that Melanie and James meet on the road, Donny Osmond and Molly Ephraim act like lunatics who have just escaped from an asylum. With these two characters, though, at least that's the purpose, and Osmond and Ephraim actually are kind of amusing (in small doses) as peppy, friendly, singing-and-dancing nightmares come to life. The only cast member to reel it in and deliver what one could classify as a solid, low-key performance is Kym E. Whitley (2005's "Fun with Dick and Jane"), as Melanie's caring mother Michelle. She seems to have wandered in from a different set.

There is a desire to claim that "College Road Trip" doesn't earn a single chuckle throughout, but that wouldn't be the truth. Among the dead zone of comedy surrounding this film is a solitary funny scene—James mistakes the silhouette of his dancing daughter and friends in an upstairs window as that of Melanie being simultaneously strangled and stabbed—and, by God, it actually results in an unexpectedly big laugh. The rest of the picture, including a sentimental climax that pitifully tries to turn on the viewer's waterworks, is fairly dreadful, made all the more maddening because the two sequences that should have been centerpieces are so sorely botched. At one point, Melanie and James finally start to see eye to eye, and talk to each other like civilized beings, which director Roger Kumble decides isn't worthy of being heard and drops out the dialogue track. Melanie's college interview, meanwhile—the whole reason for the trip—isn't even featured, the film jumping to six months later without the viewer getting a chance to see the impression she made on the admissions people. Prospective viewers of "College Road Trip" will be happy to know, though, that all of the pig's scenes remain intact.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman