College Road Trip (2008) / Comedy-Family
MPAA Rated: G, suitable for all audiences
Running time: 83 min
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Raven-Symone, Kym Whitley, Eshaya Draper, Donny Osmond, Molly Ephraim, Ametia Walker, Brenda Song, Margo Harshman, Will Sasso, Michael Landes
Cameo: Vincent Pastore
Director: Roger Kumble
Screenplay: Emi Mochizuki, Carrie Evans, Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio
Review published December 28, 2008
Raven-Symone (Dr. Dolittle, Dr. Dolittle 2), who serves as one of the film's executive producers, plays Melanie, an Illinois high school student on her way to choosing a college to start her career in prelaw, most likely one that will finally get her far away from her control freak police chief father, James (Lawrence, Wild Hogs). Daddy, of course, wants her to stay close to home and go to Northwestern University, less than a half hour drive away, while Melanie has her eyes set on the Washington DC area's Georgetown, which would mean a trip of hundreds of miles. When Melanie decides she's going to hit the road with her friends and check out potential colleges, James believes it his duty to escort her, not only so that he can make sure she stays out of trouble, but also so that he can influence her decision to go to the university he wants her to go to. As James does whatever he can to bond with his daughter, the more she pulls away, while both traverse kooky new environs and situations that alternately strain the relationship or cause them to unite.
This by-the-numbers comedy delivers a story path about as generic as its title. What should have been a straight-to-Disney-Channel release mystifyingly ends up on the big screen, probably due to the casting of Martin Lawrence. Although Lawrence is fine as the gung-ho father, this is a G-rated flick, which means that fans of Lawrence's lewd and crude form of humor will not really see this as one of his typical vehicles, and will probably avoid. Clichés abound, as College Road Trip feels like a conglomeration of elements from the last 25 years of road trip and family vacation comedies.
Family friendly fare is Lawrence's new territory of late, coming after other notable attempts such as Rebound and Open Season. While fans may find him somewhat less appealing, given how poor many of his R-rated film choices had become, I suppose we can look at the silver lining of this very ominous cloud and be thankful that we can sit through a Martin Lawrence flick and not be grossed out by repetitive flatulence for laughs. This isn't new territory at all for co-star Raven-Symone, a graduate of "The Cosby Show" all grown up now as a seasoned vet of Disney TV fare, such as her own popular show, "That's So Raven." She knows what her fans come to expect out of her -- a great deal of energy, singing, dancing, and pleasantness -- and she delivers all of it in abundance. If Lawrence's fans will call for their check early, Raven-Symone's will stick around for dessert and post-dinner conversation.
It's probably easy to slam a film like College Road Trip for being nothing but commercialized fluff, as it is not much more than a low-concept vehicle (despite the screenplay credited to FOUR screenwriters!) constructed as a springboard for Raven-Symone to make the leap from small screen to big. The best one can say for the film, which holds for most live action Disney productions, is that it is innocuous enough for most adults to sit through if their young children are intent on forcing a viewing with the entire family. That's not exactly high praise, but given that the aim of the film isn't aspiring any higher than that, one can claim it achieves its intended result by delivering the non-offensive, non-thought provoking, feel-good junk food filler that small screen Disney fans have come to know and love.
No surprise that the characterizations are straight from the TV sitcom playbook. The mother is the only normal character in the family. The younger brother (Draper, Cadillac Records) is some sort of science prodigy with a knack for getting into, and out of, trouble. There is a cute pet tagalong in a young pig with a mind that rivals most humans (his intelligence alone helps him solve a Rubik's Cube, though he lacks the adequate digits to turn the squares.) Would-be boyfriends all look like they've jumped out of an L.L. Bean catalog. Kooky supporting characters abound, with requisite hops aboard a bus full of Asian tourists who delight us with their "engrish" accents. Donny Osmond (Goin' Coconuts) makes a lively recurring appearance as the exuberant father who, much like the tagalong couple in The Sure Thing, drives his hosts crazy by being highly spirited and singing show tunes with his daughter (Ephraim, Hench at Home).
While the actors are game, this is anemic material all around, as easily consumed as it is forgotten soon afterward. If you are still at an age or state of mentality where eavesdropping under beds, food fights, and forced skydiving are the heights of comedic bliss, there may actually be a movie here for you. Everyone else will feel like this is warmed-over goods without an original plot point or characterization to be found. It's the equivalent of taking night classes at the local post-secondary community college out of convenience rather than make the sacrifice of looking for more challenging pursuits elsewhere.
©2008 Vince Leo