Family Camp

Family Camp aspires to be a mash-up of The Great Outdoors, National Lampoon's Vacation, and Meatballs with a faith-based twist. Religious comedies are rare because it's hard to mix humor with the requisite seriousness of the message delivery. That's certainly the case here, although a bargain basement screenplay and a lack of charismatic leads doesn't help. This is a movie that assumes Christian audiences are not demanding, that they will swallow lazy, uninspired slapstick so long as there's an intermittent pause to talk about God. It insults the very audience it aims to please.

Tommy Ackerman (Tommy Woodard) is a workaholic more interested in chasing a promotion than in joining his wife Grace (Leigh-Allyn Baker) and their kids in church. (There's an unwritten rule that every faith-based film must have a female character named Grace, just so we get the point.) He lets Grace talk him into taking the clan to a week-long church camp. When they arrive, a snafu puts them not in a cabin, but in a yurt with obnoxious chiropractor Eddie Sanders (Eddie James) and his family. Tommy can't stand Eddie and, in an act of pettiness, vows to beat him in the annual camp games.

The first half of Family Camp is filled with tired physical humor, as the men square off in dumb competitions, like the one where they play soccer while wrapped in inflatable plastic bubbles that allow them to violently crash into each other. Jokes about how much Tommy is annoyed by the harmonica-playing, spine-adjusting Eddie are also abundant. The downfall, in looking at the movie's obvious inspirations, is that Woodard is no Chevy Chase or John Candy, and James is no Dan Aykroyd or Bill Murray. These guys simply aren't funny, so already withering material completely falls apart in their hands. Neither actor possesses any fresh ideas to invest their one-dimensional characters with a semblance of personality. James, in particular, mugs like a fiend in an effort to appear amusing.

That initial hour is just your garden variety kind of bad. The second hour sinks much deeper. In an effort to build pathos, Tommy and Eddie get lost in the wilderness. Of course, the rivals now have to rely on one another to survive, leading to them opening up about their problems and insecurities. This is the section where Tommy realizes the error of his workaholic ways and prays for guidance. Maybe it could have been a tiny bit touching, except that the screenplay mixes that emotional material with an inane gag about the guys being kidnapped by Bigfoot hunters and tied to a tree. Yes, really. Going back and forth between heart-tugging stuff and imbecilic nonsense undermines the religious theme Family Camp wants to address.

At a certain point, I thought to myself, “This movie is going to end with a character giving a climactic confession to a crowd of people, then have a wacky dance routine and a blooper reel over the end credits, isn't it?” Guess what – that's exactly what Family Camp does. From beginning to end, director/co-writer Brian Cates goes for the most obvious, cliched things possible. Not an ounce of originality can be found anywhere in the movie's overlong 111-minute running time.

Woodard and James are known as “The Skit Guys.” They have a YouTube channel of religious comedy sketches. Their sincerity in making Family Camp is obvious and respectable. Even so, YouTube is the right place for them. Their schtick may be fine in a ten-minute video, but they aren't skilled enough comedians to carry a feature-length film. At least, not with a script this contrived. To their credit, the movie did make me say “Hallelujah” when it was over.

out of four

Family Camp is rated PG for some action and thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.