When a movie spawns a sequel, but none of the original actors return and a new cast must be brought in to play the exact same roles, isn't that grounds for direct-to-DVD status? No such luck with "Daddy Day Camp," an inferior, unnecessary continuation of 2003's "Daddy Day Care
," itself no great shakes. Standing in for Eddie Murphy is Cuba Gooding Jr. (2003's "The Fighting Temptations
"), an Oscar-winning performer whose career and discernible talent have fallen so far he should have his golden statuette revoked. Replacing Jeff Garlin is Paul Rae, whose recent parts have included "Road Crew Foreman" in 2007's "Next
" and "Arms Dealer" in one of the decade's worst films, Ulli Lommel's zero-budgeted "Zodiac Killer." Rounding out the three leads of its predecessor is no one; Steve Zahn is missing in action and his character isn't even passingly mentioned.
The wholly unoriginal plot combines elements of 1994's "Camp Nowhere" and 2005's "Cheaper by the Dozen 2
," but its quality (or lack thereof) more resembles the latter than the likable and underrated former. Charlie Hinton (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Phil Ryerson (Paul Rae) have just finished celebrating another successful year of their Daddy Day Care program when talk about summer camp for their young sons heats up. Still haunted by bad childhood memories of the times he spent away from home, Charlie is determined to give 7-year-old Ben (Spencir Bridges) a far more positive camp experience. In turn, Charlie and Phil return to the dilapidated, run-down Camp Driftwood and agree to put their own money into fixing it up and reopening. Easier said than done, as they are inundated by a group of rambunctious kids they are ill-prepared for and an adversary from Charlie's past, competing camp director Lance Warner (Lochlyn Munro), who won't stop until he has terrorized them out of the area.
Credit former-child-actor-turned-director Fred Savage for taking a more respectable career path than that of many of his drug-addicted, porn-tackling peers. That he has managed to helm his first feature film at the age of thirty is impressive. That the project in question is "Daddy Day Camp" is unfortunate. Savage, the star of one of the most truthful and iconic television series ever produced about growing up and coming-of-age ("The Wonder Years"), has made a lazy, juvenile, starkly unfunny and consistently unrelatable family film. The children in it do not act or talk like real kids, but like affected, robotic, pre-manufactured screenplay constructs. Meanwhile, most of the behavior from the adults is of the hand-flapping, voice-screeching variety. As Charlie, Cuba Gooding Jr. is the worst offender; his mugging, over-the-top performance a representation of fingernails on a blackboard.
The comedy is predictable and humorless, a series of barf, fart and pee gags intercut with people falling down a lot. Screenwriters Geoff Rodkey (2006's "RV
") and collaborators J. David Stem and David N. Weiss (2005's "Are We There Yet?
") run on autopilot; in all 89 minutes, they are unable to formulate one joke or comic set-piece that is either clever or original or able to avert expectations. The climax, set at an annual Olympiad against the rival camp, teaches dishonorable lessons to children. When the Driftwood team discovers that Lance and his campers are fixing the results through cheating, Charlie does not immediately expose their wrongdoing. Instead, he encourages his kids to sink to their level and come out on top even if it means throwing up on or tossing balloons filled with urine at their competitors. In this misguided movie's eyes, the value of teamwork and natural game-playing skills is unimportant.
Supporting Cuba Gooding Jr. is a forgettable ensemble. The children, with the possible exception of the more naturalistic Sean Patrick Flaherty as Lance's son, Bobby J, recite their lines and perfect their eye rolls, but show limited acting ability. As Charlie's wife, Kim, Tamala Jones (2003's "Head of State
") has two looks: supportive and disapproving. As bad guy Lance, Lochlyn Munro (2006's "Little Man
") is better than his derivative, one-dimensional character. Lance's actions throughout are not just obnoxious, but criminalwhy doesn't Charlie call the police and report being harassed and endangered?and there is something thoroughly unsettling in the ugly way he treats and brainwashes his son, only to brush it off by smilingly saying, "Like father, like son."
In a motion picture handicapped by its overwhelming idiocy and filmmaking sloppinessafter a paintball fight, for example, every kid has the same perfectly-placed blotches of paint on each of his or her cheeksthere is one bright spot amidst the muck. As Charlie's father, the tough-as-nails but heart-of-gold Colonel Buck Hinton, Richard Gant (2007's "Norbit
") is so effective and understated it's as if he is in a different, better film than everyone around him. A scene set at a train station between Gant and Gooding Jr. is jarring in its sincerity and sweetness; for this isolated five minutes, it is refreshing to watch two people hold a conversation, talk out their problems and feelings in an honest manner, and not resort to overblown slapstick histrionics. The rest of "Daddy Day Camp" is bad-tasting junk food that adults and kids should avoid like the plague. Indeed, this is just the sort of low-brow material that the creators of "The Wonder Years" would stick their noses in the air at. Director Fred Savage should have done the same.