We already have such drivel as Are We There Yet?, Daddy Day Care, and several other films in the realm of generic family movies that dial up the antics while seemingly avoiding any attempt at genuine comedy. Now imagine how bad those movies would be if they threw in Christian rhetoric uttered by the most archetypal “characters” you could write.
That’s Family Camp in a nutshell. It’s a product of many collaborating entities (the opening montage of studio logos feels like a feature film in itself), but most notably, it’s the first theatrical feature from Tommy Woodard and Eddie James, known as “The Skit Guys.” They’re a Christian comedy duo with a website dedicated to using comedy and drama in various performances in effort to attract a wider (and younger) audience to the teachings of the church. When they want to get the humor aspect right is when I presume they’ll finally succeed in an artistic sense.
There’s nothing funny about a movie that spends an ungodly 111 minutes doing and saying nothing remotely original. This is a tedious test of patience; its most impressive feat is that it merited a top ten spot at the American box office its opening weekend with less than 1,000 theaters. That’s quite remarkable. Until you consider it might prompt a sequel.
So, Tommy (Woodard) is your typical workaholic father. We see that when he walks into church on his cell-phone just as the sermon is ending. His wife, Grace (Leigh-Allyn Baker), accosts him for his lack of involvement as the pastor (Mark Christopher Lawrence) speaks about a family camp retreat at Camp Katokwah. Perfect timing. The couple, their son (Jacob M. Wade), and daughter (Cece Kelly) are then off to “Family Camp” as “Carry on Wayward Son” plays over the title-card — the only unpredictable thing to happen in this movie.
Because Tommy’s job is so strenuous, he forgets to book them an air-conditioned cabin. With no spots available, the family settles for a yurt, which they must share with Eddie (James) and Victoria (Gigi Orsillo), along with their two kids. Now, Eddie is a handful, to say the least. He’s the chiropractor father who introduces himself to Tommy and Grace by cracking their backs. For the rest of the movie, he jumps around like a hyena, plays riffs on his harmonica, takes the family competitions far too seriously, and makes you wish you snuck ibuprofen into the theater. James’ energy could be put to use in a movie, I’m sure. Here, however, he’s absolutely insufferable. Annoying from the moment we meet him right up until the merciful credits roll. Think Bill Murray’s famous Bob Wiley without a shred of wit.
As the two dads strive to see who can annoy and disappoint their wives by acting their shoe-size as opposed to their age, Family Camp is so squeaky-clean that it can’t possibly allow anyone else to have fun. I felt bad for Tommy’s daughter, who starts getting puppy-dog eyes for a boy at the camp. The only time Tommy and Grace take any kind of vested interest in their kids is when they’re trying to make decisions for themselves. They become obsessed with stopping it and heartbreak is made inevitable. You can’t have a reasonable teen romance in a Christian family comedy, I guess.
Screenwriters Brian Cates (also director) and Rene Gutteridge would’ve probably squandered the humanity in that subplot anyway. The most endearing soul is Mark Christopher Lawrence’s pastor, but his wisdom is too profound for a movie that’s got the maturity level of some of Adam Sandler’s worst endeavors. Family Camp just doesn’t quit. Following the exhausting climax — where Eddie should be facing charges after what he puts Tommy and the entire camp through — there’s an obligatory dance-number followed by a reel of bloopers and outtakes. The only thing that would’ve been more sinister is if the Skit Guys employed John Waters’ idea for a movie experience: have it be free to get in, but make the audience pay to get out.
I would’ve paid double.
NOTE: Family Camp is now playing exclusively in movie theaters.
Starring: Tommy Woodard, Eddie James, Leigh-Allyn Baker, Cece Kelly, Jacob M. Wade, Gigi Orsillo, and Mark Christopher Lawrence. Directed by: Brian Cates.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!