Watching Daddy Day Camp is like eating an individually wrapped slice of American cheese. Despite a slight feeling of comfort, you realize that the stuff you liked as a child is bland and tastes a bit like plastic, and bears very little resemblance to the cheese that grown-ups enjoy. It's unappealingly artificial. But kids love the stuff -- their palates are unformed and they haven't yet learned to love applewood-smoked cheddar or Stinking Bishop or even a nice Swiss cheese. Daddy Day Camp is a healthy slice of American cheese, with an artificial and non-organic plot, plastic characterizations, and the most predictable physical humor it is possible to achieve in a family film. Still, the kids in the audience when I saw the film hooted with laughter at every barf joke and bathroom reference, and perhaps the pie-in-the-face humor seemed new to them.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. takes over the starring role played by Eddie Murphy in Daddy Day Care -- Charlie Hinton, who with his friend Phil (Paul Rae this go-round) founded a successful day-care business even though they didn't know much about taking care of kids. This time, their own boys are headed for summer day camp for the first time, which brings up traumatic memories for Charlie about his own camp experience and his dad's high expectations. It turns out that Charlie and Phil's old day camp, Camp Driftwood, is falling apart and about to be bought and leveled by the evil rich-kid camp nearby, which just so happens to be run by Charlie's childhood camp nemesis Lance (Lochlyn Munro). Anyone over the age of eight could predict that at this point, Charlie and Phil are going to run the camp themselves, that the bank holding the mortgage will set a deadline that they must meet to avoid losing the camp, and that kids and adults alike will all learn valuable life lessons about family and self-esteem.
That's the difficulty in reviewing this movie: I'm not an eight-year-old, which seems to be the target audience for the film. I'm nearly the same age as Gooding (although he seems to be playing his character somewhat younger). I confess I like a good pants joke sometimes or the occasional raucous bodily-function humor, but since this is a PG-rated movie, that type of humor is diluted to avoid offense (or perhaps imitation, although I can see the nasty water-balloon prank catching on). The jokes tend to fall into one of these categories: vomit, burp, fart, skunk odor, toilet (no actual shots of poop, though) and the inevitable guy falling through a roof or having bits of a building fall on him, as was so prevalent in Are We Done Yet? (Gooding isn't nearly as good at plummeting from a roof as Ice Cube ... I had no idea this was an acting talent.) I was only surprised there were no booger jokes, and I hope mucus is not becoming passe in kids' physical comedy.
I liked movies as a child that I believe would bore or annoy me now, mostly Don Knotts/Tim Conway movies like The Apple Dumpling Gang, not to mention stuff that was probably unmemorable even to a child. Even the most precocious 8-year-olds are amused by humor that is considered naughty and forbidden, like hearing a little girl burp hugely after a big campfire dinner, or seeing a mean guy stripped down to yellow briefs adorned with stars. I wish I could channel a genuine child when I watch movies like Daddy Day Camp, so I could determine how entertaining these movies are to kids. All I could manage was my inner child, who kept wishing she were watching The Bad News Bears again, or even Meatballs or Little Darlings. The kids in this movie seems like dim imitations of the kids from the 1976 Bad News Bears, with the standard fat kid, sickly pale kid, token girl(s), none of which have much personality. The only character with a strong personality was Charlie's dad Buck, played by Richard Gant, who added depth and interest to a stereotypical career military man.
Daddy Day Camp was directed by Fred Savage -- yes, that Fred Savage, formerly the star of The Wonder Years, whose grown-up career has focused on acting in and directing kids' TV shows. Daddy Day Camp feels at times like an extended sitcom for kids, with very little to appeal to adults. Most of the actors in the film are TV sitcom veterans, except for the Oscar-winning Gooding (what happened there?). This movie would lose nothing from DVD, or even an airing on network TV. On the other hand, if your children enjoy the event of seeing a movie in a theater, and you have no objection to the type of humor detailed above, the movie might provide a nice opportunity to take them to the multiplex. There's even a short animated film beforehand, The ChubbChubbs Save Christmas, which the kids at the screening I attended seemed to love. (It made me long to see Coming to Town again.) However, if you're the adult who draws the short straw and has to take your kids to this movie, don't expect much in the way of entertainment for yourself.