January and August used to be seen as the two times of the year when movie theaters became the proverbial “dumping ground” for films in which studios had little faith. As I discussed in my review of the ill-fated Nicolas Cage actioneer The Retirement Plan, released last week, the fact that theatrical distribution costs have lowered significantly, studios you’ve never heard of can now release films for which you’ve never seen a TV commercial into theaters should they fail to secure a deal from a streaming service.
With that in mind, it’s not like Netflix original films have been held to a serious quality standard, which clues you into what kind of films we’re seeing hit theaters more and more these days.
Camp Hideout is the latest misbegotten effort that finds itself lucky to play in (mostly empty) theaters for a couple weeks. Directed by Sean Olson — whose filmography includes such gems as The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation and Squeaky Clean Mysteries: Hazardous Duty — the film is a kids-centric summer camp comedy, which borrows a little bit from everywhere. A little Home Alone here. A little Camp Nowhere there, until it’s completely diluted to the point where all you can do is bear witness to how the film so boldly and unapologetically wastes your precious time.
The film already gets off on a strange foot, sort of establishing Selena (Amanda Leighton), a young woman who is off to a weeklong summer camp vacay, as the main character only to fade her into the background relatively quickly. Selena’s purpose at the camp is to look after an orphaned teenager named Noah (Ethan Drew), who gets on the camp bus right after evading police and the goons (Josh Incola and Joshua Childs) for whom he helped steal what looks like a jail-broken Nintendo Switch.
At Camp Deer Run as it’s known, Noah and company are in the hands of Jake (High School Musical alum Corbin Bleu), a smiley camp counselor who brings the kids together with acoustic songs and light Bible teachings. The campers are also kept in line by Christopher Lloyd’s Falco, who plays the same scowling, Christopher Lloyd-caricature we’ve come to know for the better part of three decades now.
Cue the usual summer camp shenanigans, including, but not limited to, Noah flirting with a fellow camper (Jenna Raine Simmons), stiff-arming a bedwetting roommate (Tyler Kowalski), and trying not to snap the neck of a rich kid (Luca Alexander). In between these events, Noah spends a lot of time brooding and sulking, but later, he’s got to find a way to get the other campers on his side when the aforementioned goons learn of his whereabouts and attempt to retrieve the device — one that’s purpose is never clearly stated.
Camp Hideout feels more fit to be on a Christian cable network as opposed to over 800 theaters around the United States. Make no mistake, it would be a bad movie regardless of where it premiered, but the bar for entertainment, particularly children’s entertainment, has been raised to the point where movies like this should’ve been left on the cutting room floor a long, long time ago.
The trio of writers (Kat Olson, C. Neil Davenport, and Dave DeBorde) have crafted a script so derivative that the film itself lacks a voice and a purpose. Some of the takeaway themes of allowing the kindness of strangers to wash over you and opening yourself up to new experiences fall completely flat when they’re conducted in such a preachy fashion. Consider when Bleu’s Jake invites Drew’s Noah to sit with him by a creek and gaze at a forest of trees before them. Jake tells the troubled teen that when seeds for those trees were scattered, some landed on hard soil, some landed in the water, but the ones that landed on soft soil were able to grow into the towering pillars of nature they’re staring at now. Jake asks Noah that when a seed comes his way, what kind of ground does he want to be? Noah brushes it off, ostensibly offended by the flowery and oversimplified nature of Jake’s monologue. I reacted the same way.
There’s no context afforded to any of these characters either. Noah’s background is never developed, from what happened to his parents to why he took on a life of petty crime. His guardian, Selena, becomes irrelevant as soon as Noah checks in to Camp Deer Run. The final thirty minutes of the film involves the campers banding together to rig traps Kevin McAllister-style for the two men chasing Noah. Why don’t they call the police?
Last year, a movie called Family Camp was released. It was another summer camp comedy with Christian overtones that revolved around a pair of dads making asses out of themselves during a plethora of camp competitions. It was atrocious, so toothless and sanitized that all you wanted to do was wince at its attempts at slapstick comedy. Gone are the days of The Great Outdoors, or even a middling-yet-still-marginally-amusing effort like Bushwhacked. Nowadays, a cinematic retreat in the woods is a punishing endeavor so much so that Camp Crystal Lake looks like a more appealing vacation by comparison.
NOTE: Camp Hideout is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Starring: Ethan Drew, Corbin Bleu, Christopher Lloyd, Tyler Kowalski, Jenna Raine Simmons, Luca Alexander, Josh Incola, Joshua Childs, and Amanda Leighton. Directed by: Sean Olson.
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!