The latest attempt to mine a seemingly bottomless cache of tween-oriented literature, “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” strives to capture the insouciance of Megan McDonald’s popular book series but overshoots its comedic potential. Though McDonald herself co-wrote the adaptation, pic comes off as an exaggerated slapstick romp rather than the breezy, affecting tale of an 8-year-old tomboy it might have been. With slight theatrical prospects, item will nonetheless exploit its built-in name recognition for an extended shelf life of home viewing, like a jar of preservative-laden gumballs that should have expired but can’t.
Whereas the recent “Ramona and Beezus” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” pics managed to replicate some of the best aspects of the books that inspired them, “Judy Moody” hasn’t fared as well. There are obvious and superficial commonalities, to be sure: Strong-willed Judy, like Ramona Quimby and “Wimpy Kid’s” Greg Heffley, grapples with peer pressure, family power struggles and homespun disasters. But McDonald’s quirky prose and character-specific dialogue, as enlivened by Peter Reynolds’ evocative sketches, are enhanced by the imagination. Onscreen, dialogue like “toad-ally cool” feels, well, totally ridiculous.
Third-grader Judy (Australian Jordana Beatty) has a shock of red hair that, like her moods, can’t be tamed. Her younger brother, Stink (Parris Mosteller), is an endless source of irritation to her, and she regularly feels misunderstood. Things get a whole lot worse when she learns her friends have exotic summer plans (one heads to circus camp, the other to Borneo) and her parents will be taking a trip without her. Enter Judy and Stink’s wacky Aunt Opal (Heather Graham, overdoing it). Though Judy is initially reluctant to welcome her, Opal helps Judy devise a “thrill chart” to record her most exciting adventures. Opal’s own sure-to-dazzle ideas include making trashcan-lid sombreros and a papier-mache Bigfoot. (Finding Bigfoot is one of Stink’s obsessions.)
To her credit, Beatty grins and bears it, doing the best she can with the thin material. Likewise, young Mosteller is an agreeable presence. But helmer John Schultz (“Aliens in the Attic”) goes the route of caricature early on, a choice emphasized by Cynthia Kay Charette’s candy-colored production design and Richard Gibbs’ goofily overzealous soundtrack. Consequently, the proceedings start to resemble a carnival attraction, not unlike the ill-fated roller-coaster ride Judy shares with her pal Frank (Preston Bailey). In the end, it’s hard to know which is more disconcerting: the fact that the camera never stops moving, or that Graham’s forehead barely moves at all.