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College Road Trip

Roger Kumble's College Road Trip is the latest in Disney's long, long line of "wacky" family comedies in which sterling family values are staplegunned to the screen with more authority than the most firebreathing sermon commands. It is as sweet as a supermarket bakery cake, and indeed the supporting cast carries on, for the most part, as if its members had been force-fed Ding Dongs for weeks. The plot, engaging and promisingly smart at the beginning, succumbs to an opportunistic infection just past the hour mark, after which no contrivance is far-fetched enough. College Road Trip is in many ways like what opera queens call a "party tape."

And yet. And yet...

— But before we get to the "and yet" part, let me just say that Raven-Symoné, one of the film's producers, already looks, at the tender age of twenty-two, far too old to be impersonating a high-school senior. She could easily pass for thirty. She's a fine-looking woman, and a woman of (many moving) parts. But every now and then, when she cuddles up to Martin Lawrence and whispers "Daddy," it's just the tiniest bit creepy.

And yet.

By the time the story got shameless — the skydiving episode, I think — I didn't really care whether Melanie Porter (Miss R-S) got into Georgetown, if, indeed, I ever had; but I was hoping that her father, the chief of police in Fox Springs, Illinois (just outside of Chicago), would complete his mission, which was to let his little girl, a little girl no longer, try out her wings. To stand back and give her some real independence. I cared because Martin Lawrence made this character's reluctance to do so quite ridiculously funny. The humor wasn't in the gags so much as in the disconnect between the chief's view of himself as a reasonably mature man and the reality of his besotted, overprotective fatherhood. I could relate. If you don't think that you could relate, don't see this movie.

Also, Mr Kumble has the wit to coax disbelieving double-takes from his actors, thus pre-empting the audience reaction: this is really happening?

Genug schon. My heart's first "watertight compartment" was breached by the subplot involving the genius kid (Eshava Draper) and his pet pig, Albert. Then there was the very short walk from the overturned vehicle in the woods to the charming country inn... I kept looking out for the very beautiful Kym Whitley, who played the sensible mom. If Ms Raven-Symoné reminded me of Barbra, Ms Whitley reminded me of Bette. For a little while, I thought Queen Latifah might have pumped some good sense into this picture — her work in Last Holiday was absolutely alchemical — but presently I thought better of it.

I really did have a good time watching College Road Trip. But I'll never be that innocent again.

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