If you’ve chosen to watch “Daddy Day Camp,” I assume it is because you are a fan of two things: “Daddy Day Care,” the 2003 film to which it is a sequel; and bodily functions. If you are indifferent toward those two things, then I cannot urge you in strong enough terms to avoid “Daddy Day Camp.”
But if you do love those things, then boy howdy, are you ever in for a treat. “Daddy Day Camp” has a naked boy peeing into a toilet while scratching his butt, and a man accidentally eating a bug that was graphically smashed onto a barbecued hamburger patty, all before the opening credits are even finished! From there it is a long, messy ride through scene after scene of farting, peeing, vomiting, and pooping. The screenplay is attributed to three writers. That means if the film’s funny parts were divided evenly among them, they each wrote zero.
The film answers the question “How bad does a sequel have to be for Eddie Murphy to want nothing to do with it?” He starred, with rotund comedian Jeff Garlin, in the 2003 family flick about two dads who start a daycare center. But neither man was interested in the sequel, so they’ve been replaced with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Paul Rae … who are playing the same characters. Not the original characters’ brothers, or two different characters in a similar situation, but the same characters. I guess the thinking was that as long as they had a Black Guy and a Fat White Guy, no one would notice the difference. They could just as easily have gotten Martin Lawrence and George Wendt, or Chris Tucker and James Gandolfini. (Actually, I would watch that movie.)
Gooding plays Charlie and Rae plays Phil, the guys whose daycare center, now in its fourth year, is wildly successful. They originally opened it to take care of their own young children; now those kids are 7 and getting ready to go to summer day camp.
Charlie has bad memories of his own camp days, as he lost a relay race in the inter-camp olympiad of 1977 and has evidently never healed from the emotional scars. That’s right, Charlie is a great big baby. Nonetheless, his wife (Tamala Jones) says their son is going to camp, and that this shouldn’t be news to Charlie, because the permission slip has been on the fridge for three weeks. Now it befalls Charlie and Phil to drive out to the woods to check out the place.
It’s called Camp Driftwood, and it’s a dilapidated old wreck. It’s been closed for quite some time. You have to wonder, then, how the permission slip has been on the fridge for three weeks, because I don’t think a camp that isn’t operational would be sending out permission slips. Maybe it was a generic permission slip: “I give permission for my child to attend some camp at some point.” At any rate, the owner (Brian Doyle-Murray), who evidently just sits in the camp’s office all day every day even though the camp is closed, talks Charlie and Phil into becoming his business partners in order to get the place up and running again. Then he takes off and leaves it entirely in their hands. Then they find out the camp is on the verge of foreclosure — which I think probably would have come up during the becoming-business-partners/looking-at-the-camp’s-financial-status portion of the negotiations, but hey, what do I know. I’ve never even been to day camp, much less bought one.
So they have to get a lot of parents to start sending their kids to Driftwood in order to make enough money to keep it open. As if that weren’t enough stress, they must also contend with neighboring Camp Canola, now owned by rich super-bastard Lance Warner (Lochlyn Munro) — the very same Lance Warner who defeated Charlie in that race 30 years ago and who is still as much a jerk today as he was then!! What are the odds?!
Charlie and Phil’s first day running the camp, with just one affable but incompetent counselor (Josh McLerran) to help, is a disaster, of course. We discover that while the camp has no functioning toilets, it does have a fully stocked snack bar in which all the candy is perfectly fresh despite having been boarded up for several years. (What the F?) We meet a boy who vomits all the time, more or less for no reason. (WTF?) Another kid has a mullet haircut and insists you call him “Mullet,” which is more than you can say for most of the characters, who are never given names despite appearing in most of the film. (Whisky Tango Foxtrot?)
After that, only seven kids show up to camp each day, stalwarts whose parents don’t care that their children are spending their summer days at a deathtrap. With Charlie and Phil’s sons, that makes nine children total. But Charlie figures if they can beat Camp Canola at the annual inter-camp Olympics, it will give Camp Driftwood a great reputation and parents will start sending their kids to them again! That doesn’t make any sense, of course — why would parents care who wins a bunch of camp games? — and Charlie’s wife says so. Then, 30 seconds later, she changes her mind and is fully supportive of Charlie’s stupid plan — even though nothing has changed in those 30 seconds.
But how can he win the olympiad with a ragtag group of nine kids? For that, Charlie calls in his father, Col. Buck (Richard Gant), a tough military man from whom he has been estranged for quite some time. In fact, his father has been disappointed in him ever since … why, ever since Charlie fell down and lost that race in 1977! That was one fateful day, I’ll tell you, with repercussions that affect almost every aspect of Charlie’s life even to this day.
Buck whips the kids into shape, people learn valuable life lessons, and there is much prankery back and forth between the two camps. Then the Olympics happen, and it’s a curious set of games indeed: There are just the two camps involved, Canola’s 50 kids up against Driftwood’s nine.
The movie was directed by Fred Savage, the former star of “The Wonder Years” and now a frequent director of Disney Channel programming. I have nothing but fondness for “The Wonder Years,” but holy crap is Fred Savage ever a pitiful director. This is putrid, insipid comedy at its worst. Nothing makes sense. The characters do things for no reason, and events occur without any apparent cause. The movie really is just a series of broad, lowbrow moments strung together randomly by a wisp of a plot.
In closing, let us discuss Cuba Gooding Jr. Almost immediately after he won that Oscar back in 1997, he launched a campaign to make the Academy sorry for it. He has been in some truly awful films since then. “Radio.” “Boat Trip.” “Snow Dogs.” “Norbit.” (Yes, he had a supporting role in that Eddie Murphy fiasco.) But say what you will about him, he knows his stuff: No living actor is better than Cuba Gooding Jr. at taking a bad film and making it completely unbearable. He’s never seen a potentially comedic moment that he couldn’t ruin with a little bug-eyed overacting. He jumps up and down, he screams like a woman, he sputters and fumes and hisses and stammers — and none of it is funny. In a surprisingly bad movie, he is the most unsurprisingly bad thing about it.
F (1 hr., 33 min.; )