Camp Nowhere

Camp Nowhere.
Hollywood Pictures 1994.

Before watching the movie:

Despite having gone through a phase in my early teens when I got obsessed with and went through the filmographies of many actors including Christopher Lloyd, it seems I can still be surprised. I don’t recall knowing about this movie’s existence until immediately before deciding to review it. I was trying to find something weightier since it’s been a while since I’ve done good drama, but as soon as I saw Christopher Lloyd, my decision was made.

It seems this concerns a no-rules retreat camp created by teens who don’t want to be sent away to the camps chosen by their parents. I’m not sure how much my impression that the poster wants me to think it’s “Animal House, but with teens” comes entirely from the fact that Lloyd’s character is wearing a toga. Also the girl in the swimsuit seems a bit shoehorned in I guess.

After watching the movie:

Wimpy geek Morris Himmel (Mud)’s parents are always pushing him to live up to his “potential”, and their latest idea is to send him to Microchippewa computer camp for the summer. Mud is entirely opposed to the idea, and his friends likewise hate the thought of being shipped off to military camps, fat camps, acting camps, and the like. While grousing with his peers, Mud suggests that his parents should just give him the $3,000 they’re going to spend on the camp, and the other kids say “hey, yeah, that’s actually a great idea”. Soon, Mud is masterminding a scheme where his friends trick their parents into sending them to a fake camp so they can spend the summer doing what they want, spending the money on what they want. But they need an adult accomplice to sell it. Mud finds disgraced former drama teacher Dennis Van Welker and the kids hire him to pose as the perfect instructor for their fake camps. As the summer goes on, the rush of freedom wears off, kids learn some rules are there for reasons, and Dennis has to stay involved to keep suspicious adults like the police officer investigating the “gang of rowdy kids on the lake” at bay.

The thought occurred to me that this could be coming of age, but I didn’t think it was a premise that lent itself to that very well. But the second act very strongly shows the kids maturing by necessity, learning who they are when nobody tells them who to be, and stumbling into some hard lessons. Dennis is just Mud’s mentor, but a lot of the other kids grow more than Mud does, all on their own. It’s really well-crafted storytelling.

I keep finding more people I recognize in the adult cast. Christopher Lloyd of course, Peter Scolari is Mud’s nerdy father, and Tom Wilson (Lloyd’s Back to the Future costar) is the police officer. Kate Mulgrew is a parent, and somehow I missed Jonathan Frakes and his wife Genie Francis as the Spiegels. Burgess Meredith shows up, and of course, most will recognize M. Emmett Walsh’s limited appearance as the debt collector after Dennis. The child cast also includes a young Jessica Alba and Allison Mack. That’s a surprisingly large list of notable names for a movie nobody found noteworthy.

There is as ever, maybe too much emphasis on romance. Not only are there two child couples growing closer over the summer, but there’s a major subplot with Dennis wooing the local doctor posing as Mud’s single father. At least the skeevy kid whose whole deal is that he’s obsessed with getting the girl who was rumored to have skinny dipped last year to repeat that with him gets nothing but just comeuppance in the end.

This movie deserves more than the obscurity and poor reception it seems to have gotten. It’s no classic at the level of something like Stand By Me, but it accomplishes everything it sets out to, and it does so maybe a little more than competently. This is worth seeing at least once, or maybe becoming someone’s comfort watch movie.

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