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‘Camp Nowhere’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 27, 1994


Jonathan Prince
Andrew Keegan;
Melody Kay;
Marne Paterson;
Jonathan Jackson;
Christopher Lloyd
Parental guidance suggested

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Summer's approaching, and if Mud doesn't think of something fast he'll have to endure eight weeks of nerd hell at Camp Computer Chip-a-wa. His friends are facing the same unwelcome vacation: It's off to a paramilitary camp for Zack (Andrew Keegan), a fat farm for Gaby (Melody Kay) and drama camp for Trish (Marne Paterson). Then Mud (Jonathan Jackson) has a brainstorm. If they could somehow get their hands on the money their parents are going to use to send them away, they could rent their own camp. No rules, no stupid activities, no dumb counselors--just eight weeks of unsupervised bliss.

The history of the teen summer camp movie is far from exalted, and the opening moments of "Camp Nowhere" may make you fear that it's another "Meatballs." Oddly enough, though, it turns out to be nothing of the sort. Instead of the usual coming-of-age coarseness, this celebration of kid power is a rather tame affair. It's sweet, likable and even vaguely hip.

It's a relief to see a children's film that portrays kids as resourceful and self-reliant. To pull off the scam with their parents, Mud and his friends enlist the services of Dennis Van Welker (Christopher Lloyd), a former drama teacher best known for his notorious musical version of "The Silence of the Lambs." Dennis dons a series of disguises to convince the parents of each kid that their child must spend the summer with him. And everything seems to work perfectly, except that word gets out around school and before Mud can do anything, half his classmates get in on the scam.

The camp itself was once a hippie commune, but quickly--and with the help of their parents' money--the kids transform it into a kid's paradise, complete with water cannons, computer games and wide-screen TV. Along the way, the children have fun (most of it fairly harmless), overcome hardships and petty squabbles, and find themselves. Even Dennis, who has run away from most of the tough decisions in his life, learns to stand up and take responsibility like a real grown-up.

Directed by Jonathan Prince, "Camp Nowhere" is old-fashioned and borderline corny, but here and there the comedy turns delightfully weird. For example, Parents' Day includes a hilarious kids' production of a scene from "A Streetcar Named Desire" as part of what the campers call "Tennessee for Tots."

The kids get busted, of course, but after the parents are allowed a minor freakout, things return to normal and nobody gets hurt. Maybe "Camp Nowhere" is more easily praised for what it isn't than for what it is. Still, it's not half bad.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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