Like poor little “Mud” Himmel, the hero of “Camp Nowhere” who is constantly upbraided by his nerdy parents for not realizing his “potential,” this Hollywood Pictures comedy about a group of misfit kids who create a secret summer camp squanders its potential. Moderate B.O. looks limited to the braces and Barbie set.
When Mud (Jonathan Jackson) is faced with another summer of computer camp, he rebels and enlists three friends in a wild plan to create their own camp.
Since Zack (Andrew Keegan) is being shipped off by his war-loving father to a military camp; Trish (Marne Patterson) looks to be dispatched to theater camp by her culturally challenged folks; and Gaby (Melody Kay) to fat camp by her weight-obsessed mom, this gang of four share in the quest for freedom.
They find the perfect adult co-conspirator in wild and crazy Dennis Van Welker (Christopher Lloyd). Their summer of fun is to be financed by the dough their parents plan to spend on their respective camps, but then another two dozen school pals get wind of the plan and join them.
At this point, “Camp Nowhere” serves up a truly interesting situation which the filmmakers generally leave wilting in the sun. Van Welker, it turns out, isn’t so much a broken-down loser as an idealist who believes in mining the youths’ energy and vitality.
And the kids, who gorge themselves on junk food and fulfill their consumer fantasies on a shopping spree, are revealed to be introspective and thoughtful. Their own summer camp turns into the kind of learning experience sought by their well-meaning, but blockheaded parents.
Elements of “Dead Poets Society,””Zero de Conduit” and “Lord of the Flies” appear, only to disappear under the weight of rushing the more traditional plot points forward.
For instance, when director Jonathan Prince gently glides the film toward visual lyricism, as in a wonderful scene of nighttime revelry, the action is abruptly cut short in order to return to standard TV sitcom speechifying and corny comedic histrionics.
Prince gets some decent performances out of the kiddie cast and keeps the action lightly bubbling along, but interesting premise needed more than the so-so treatment delivered here.
Perfs range from so-so to special, with newcomer Jackson a standout, and Wendy Makkena, as an unlikely love interest for Lloyd, gamely striving to pump some romance and adult appeal into the juvenile proceedings.
Pic boasts savvy use of Southern California wilderness locations standing in for the Adirondacks, but the often harsh, glaring lighting of outdoor scenes wastes the ample pictorial opportunities of kids in paradise.