Higher education hardly seems worth the price of admission in "College Road Trip," the second ostensible comedy of 2008 starring Martin Lawrence, this time as a control-freak dad trying to stifle his daughter's academic dreams.

Higher education hardly seems worth the price of admission in “College Road Trip,” the second ostensible comedy of 2008 (after “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins”) starring Martin Lawrence, this time as a control-freak dad trying to stifle his daughter’s academic dreams. With its sentimental life-lessons, cute animal sidekick and jarring musical interludes courtesy of co-lead Raven-Symone (and, in a singularly bizarre return to the bigscreen, Donny Osmond), this overplayed, underachieving laffer feels thoroughly manufactured to Disney specifications. Name cast and G-rated appeal will lend pic some financial aid before it drops out of theaters and into a productive ancillary career.

Which is the more tired cliche: neglectful, workaholic dad, or tyrannically overprotective dad? Lawrence makes a strong case for the latter as James Porter, a Chicago police officer and family man who’s not afraid to let the two roles mix, especially when it comes to taking care of his precious and precocious teenage daughter, Melanie (actress-singer Raven-Symone, star of Disney Channel’s recently wrapped sitcom “That’s So Raven” and one of the pic’s exec producers).

James wants Melanie to go to nearby Northwestern U., but the aspiring attorney has her sights set on Georgetown. Naturally, the two must embark on an ill-advised road trip to the Washington, D.C., campus, as James tries to bond with his increasingly exasperated daughter and get her to change her plans by any bull-headed, manipulative means necessary.

While Melanie’s sane, saintly mom (Kym E. Whitley) has the good sense to stay home, her younger brother Trey (Eshaya Draper) and his scene-stealing pet pig turn up as stowaways — a sure sign that the central relationship may not be enough to sustain an 82-minute feature.

Things worsen when the Porters get stuck traveling with another daddy-daughter duo: Doug (Osmond) and Wendy (Molly Ephraim), who are so infernally upbeat, so prone to bursting into ghastly showtunes at the slightest opportunity, that their scenes together achieve a nightmarish, borderline-psychotic fascination. This is Osmond’s first film since 1978′s “Goin’ Coconuts” (he contributed singing vocals to Disney toon “Mulan”); should Fox ever turn “The Simpsons” into a Broadway musical, they’ll know where to find their Ned Flanders.

Credited to four writers, the script offers a lot of fat jokes, Asian-tourist jokes and food-fight setpieces, and nary a moment of recognizably human behavior: The shrill, bubbly mannerisms of Melanie and her girlfriends prove especially grating, suggesting barely disguised contempt for pic’s tweener audience. Similarly, there’s no reason for Melanie to suddenly bust out into a funky-clunky rendition of Frankie Smith’s 1981 “Double Dutch Bus,” except that she’s played by Raven-Symone, and pop-star tie-ins take priority over character logic.

The two leads have considerable screen appeal and decent chemistry, but are ill served by the material’s sitcomish beats and mawkish resolution. Oddly, helmer Roger Kumble’s previous film was the sharp, underrated comedy “Just Friends” — a movie that has nothing in common with “College Road Trip,” aside from a misguided belief in the comic possibilities of a Taser.

Slick production was lensed in scenic Connecticut, with various prep schools standing in for Northwestern, Georgetown and U. of Pittsburgh; alumni can distract themselves by spotting the discrepancies. Animated map graphics deserve kudos for cleverly illustrating the story’s geography, as does head animal trainer James P. Warren for successfully enabling a pig to play chess, perform hyper-caffeinated acrobatics, and basically do everything short of getting admitted to Georgetown.

College Road Trip

Production

A Walt Disney Pictures release and presentation of a Gunnfilms production. Produced by Andrew Gunn. Executive producers, Ann Marie Sanderlin, Anthony Katagas, Raven-Symone, Michael Green. Directed by Roger Kumble. Screenplay, Emi Mochizuki, Carrie Evans, Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, Deluxe prints, Panavision widescreen), Theo van de Sande; editor, Roger Bondelli; music, Edward Shearmur; music supervisor, Lisa Brown; production designer, Ben Barraud; art director, Douglas Huszti; set decorator, Catherine Davis; costume designer, Francine Jamison-Tanchuck; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Tom Nelson; supervising sound editors, Robert L. Sephton, Randle Akerson; re-recording mixers, David E. Fluhr, Myron Nettinga; visual effects supervisor, David Lingenfelser; visual effects, Furious FX; titles and map graphics, Picture Mill; head animal trainer, James P. Warren; stunt coordinator, Manny Siverio; assistant director, Douglas Torres; second unit director, Craig Haagensen; casting, Marcia Ross, Gail Goldberg, Jennifer Euston. Reviewed at El Capitan Theater, Los Angeles, March 3, 2008. MPAA Rating: G. Running time: 82 MIN.

With

James - Martin Lawrence Melanie - Raven-Symone Doug - Donny Osmond Nancy - Brenda Song Deputy O'Mally - Will Sasso Trey - Eshaya Draper
With: Kym E. Whitley, Arnetia Walker, Margo Harshman, Josh Meyers, Michael Landes, Lucas Grabeel, Adam Lefevre.

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