Camp Nowhere (1994)

“I just gotta say… THIS IS MAJOR COOL,YEAH!”

Justin’s Rating: It’s a very, VERY long way to Tipperary

Justin’s Review: As a somewhat-maturing adult, it’s unsettling to go back and watch movies targeted to kids, starring kids. Not because of a lost sense of nostalgia or due to any juvenile antics, but because these sorts of movies portray children with a creepy, Village of the Damned superiority versus grownups. Again, don’t get me wrong: I love watching kids being kids, but kids being elitist prepubescents who think they can manipulate the world around their baby fat-thickened fingers is another story entirely.

Argh, it’s hard to put into words, but hopefully you know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen movies starring child actors that regurgitate dialogue that was written by some 42-year-old Hollywood scriptwriter who has no concept of scaling it down for the part, right? And you’ve seen movies where the child actors in question are trying way too hard to act grown-up and superior, to the point where they grate the nerves if they get even two seconds of screen time? Be with me, here.

My wife bought Camp Nowhere at a garage sale, and on her night to pick a movie to watch, this is what went into the DVD player. I’m not sure what she was thinking; perhaps Christopher Lloyd on the cover plus a general Disneyfied feel to the package convinced her of its harmless nature.

Skip forward to minute 36. My wife is squirming in agony — unlike myself, she is hardly the veteran of soul-sucking bad films. She begged to turn it off, to resume our normal lives as best we could. I had to wrestle the remote away and tell her that she called down the fire and now she would reap it, and we would finish watching this 90-minute tour through hell or die trying.

The whimpers clawed at my conscience, but hey — she picked it.

Camp Nowhere displays a cornucopia of horrid child acting unlike anything you’ve ever seen. 96% of the cast consists of children under the age of 13 who were probably chosen for the part because they were in league with the Prince of Darkness, who exchanged their immortal soul for the ability to deliver some of the most groan-worthy lines of dialogue and act all “rad” even though it was their nap time. The other 4% is taken up by a crazed Christopher Lloyd, a smoldering nurse, Biff Tannen, and a porky M. Emmet Walsh. You could also keep your eyes out for a weird Star Trek convergence (Kate Mulgrew and Jonathan Frakes have cameos as parents), or a very young Jessica Alba. To do so kept me from insanity.

The idea for Camp Nowhere probably sounded cool to a lot of kids who went to see this, and at the same time caused their parents to break out in hives. Four junior high delinquents decide that they’re sick of being sent to the same-old summer camps (one skinny girl in particular keeps getting sent to fat camps for no good reason), so they invent a fake camp, lie to their parents, and end up trucking half of their 5th grade class along to the middle of the woods with only a couple adults from Back to the Future there to keep them from killing themselves outright.

I’m sure this premise wasn’t meant to be picked over, and its target demographic probably loved the whole idea of a summer unshackled from parental supervision, with complete freedom and a few thousand bucks apiece. What bugs me is that they only give passing attention to the realities of such a situation, such as injuries (the average 5th grader breaks one bone a day and contracts the Plague every other week), basic nutrition (where’s the scurvy in these kids?), laundry service and how many teenage pregnancies there would be by summer’s end. Nay, instead we’re treated to a montage of gluttony of excess, where the kids get away with breaking the rules and there are no consequences whatsoever.

Ack. I’m so my parents right now. But is that a bad thing?

This actually would be all well and harmless enough entertainment if it weren’t for the aforementioned Bad Child Acting. The kids fumble their way through romances, plot devices and deceptions with all the skill of a blind lemur parachuting into Normandy in June of 1944. In a film largely devoid of adult actors, the burden of the film falls squarely on their weak little shoulders, and they’re simply not old enough to handle it well.

It’s not worth a viewing in any circumstances, but it is notable for one of the most laughable climactic setups in film history. The kids, facing the onset of their parents for Parents Day, create an elaborate ruse of epic proportions to fool these grownups into thinking that this one camp is really four professionally-run camps all at once. Of course, all of the parents bumble around right into believing this codswallop, not one of them questioning the lack of counselors, and not one of the kids messing up an operation that would’ve taken a good couple months to set up. It’s movie magic, and that’s why we cry!

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