[Screen It]

(2008) (Martin Lawrence, Raven-Symoné) (G)

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Comedy: Much to her chagrin, a teen's police chief father abruptly decides to accompany her on her tour of prospective colleges, leading to a comically disastrous road trip for all involved.
For Chicago area police chief James Porter (MARTIN LAWRENCE), his adult life has revolved around protecting people, particularly his daughter. Accordingly, he's always planned on 17-year-old Melanie (RAVEN-SYMONÉ) attending a nearby college so that she can be close by for him, his wife, Michelle (KYM E. WHITLEY), and their other child, 10-year-old brainiac Trey (ESHAYA DRAPER) who has an equally smart, chess-playing pig.

James is thus shocked and disappointed when he learns that his little girl has applied to Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and is planning to drive there for a tour and interview with her best friends, Nancy (BRENDA SONG) and Katie (MARGO HARSHMAN). Feeling the need to protect Melanie, James decides instead to be the one to drive her, much to her dismay.

As they make their way across the country, they must contend with various comedic complications. That includes meeting and having to travel with overzealous dad Doug Greenhut (DONNY OSMOND) and his equally enthusiastic daughter, Wendy (MOLLY EPHRAIM), all as James must learn to trust Melanie's judgment and thus let her leave the nest and grow up.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
In Disney's "The Lion King," one of the more memorable song sequences was "The Circle of Life," where young Simba's birth is announced to all of the lesser animals. The number, of course, was all about the lion cub who would one day replace his father as king of the jungle (and then eventually be replaced himself by his own heir), but the subtext also touched on the predatory nature of, well, nature.

No animals eat others only to be consumed by larger ones in Disney's live action comedy "College Road Trip" (although part of the plot does deal with a pig, more on that later), but "the circle of life" certainly comes into play.

And that's because former teenager James Porter (Martin Lawrence) has now grown up into an overprotective dad who's watching as his oldest daughter (Raven-Symoné) prepares to enter the first stage of adulthood. The cruel irony of the circle is that the police chief once probably was embarrassed by and couldn't wait to get away from his parents, only to find his own offspring now thinking that way about him.

Thus is one of the more predictable comedic elements of this standard road trip flick that offers nary a surprise (save for one big of retro casting) and only a smattering of laughs (a misinterpreted silhouette scene) as it makes its way from movie point A to movie point Z.

Director Roger Kumble ("Cruel Intentions," "Just Friends") and his quartet of scribes -- Emi Mochizuki & Carrie Evans and Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio (did it really take all four to write this?) -- don't stray far from the sub-genre's plot navigation. The basic gist is this: Dad wants daughter to go to college nearby (that being Northwestern, just 40 miles away), while the teen wants to go to Georgetown.

So when she's about to head off with her best friends on a cross-country college tour, he opts to take her instead. All of which means she'll participate in various bouts of eye rolling, disgusted/dismayed/embarrassed facial expressions and more, all as he tries to be the cool/hip/with it pop who's seriously out of touch. Throw in various obstacles, setbacks and surprises (not to mention the chess-playing pig who gets ultra-caffeinated and disrupts a wedding reception), and young kids will probably love or at least be entertained by the chaos.

For adults, having the fare arrive in a G-rated package will probably come as a relief, and the film's touchy-feely moments are supposed to play to them. For most anyone in the teen or older age range, however, the pic is likely to induce repeated and then frantic calls of "Are we there yet?" and "And is it done?"

And that's because this ultra broadly played comedy featuring similarly hyper-exaggerated material and mannerisms will likely quickly wear on non-juvenile nerves. Much of that obviously stems from Lawrence who hasn't met a film in which he can't overact and mug. Yet, there's also all of the pig material (harkening back to "Green Acre" days), a busload of Japanese tourists who break into a highly choreographed version of "Double Dutch Bus," a talking GPS system, old folks having a secret dance life, and the film's score constantly underlining any given moment's emotion in case we happen to miss it (which is highly unlikely).

The most egregious, however, arrives in the form of Donny Osmond (he of the aforementioned retro casting) and Molly Ephraim as an insanely giddy father-daughter duo who occasionally run into the less cohesive pairing of Lawrence and Raven-Symoné. Yes, I get the concept behind the exaggerated characterizations of the irritant role (a long running staple in broadly played comedies), but what's initially slightly amusing at best quickly becomes tiresome with each repeated encounter.

The worst part of the entire mess, however, is that the filmmakers rarely show any smarts, wit and/or imagination with the material. Even the previously mentioned silhouette scene (where Lawrence misinterprets dancing seen through a window in shadow form as an attack on his daughter) has been lifted from previous material, but at least is provides a few scant chuckles.

Which unfortunately can't be said about the rest of the film. Granted, our preview screening audience was laughing hysterically at most of the material (much of which would make even sitcom writers cringe in embarrassment), so viewer mileage may vary in terms of entertainment value. For me, I couldn't wait for this "College Road Trip" to end, particularly since the circle of life means those laughing adults will pass on their humor genes to their kids, meaning a never ending supply of dreck like this. It rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed March 5, 2008 / Posted March 7, 2008

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