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These days it’s pretty common for Disney to revisit and rehash ideas that have worked for them in the past. While some of these approaches bring their own uniqueness (Enchanted), others are just less successful remakes of classics that never should have been touched (The Shaggy Dog). For College Road Trip, Disney returns to an old concept mined pretty thoroughly by Steve Martin in Father of the Bride: exploring the father and daughter relationship when the time comes for dad to let his daughter go. Martin Lawrence’s character, James Porter, argues that that time doesn’t come at a wedding, however, but when daddy’s little girl heads off for college. That concept gives Disney a shot at a new series that isn’t quite as bad as it could have been.
Desperate to hang onto her for as long as he can, Porter wants his daughter, Melanie (Raven-Symoné) to attend Northwestern University, less than half an hour from home. Her interest lies in the legal program at Georgetown University though, quite a distance from their Indiana home. When Melanie gets an interview at Georgetown, James decides to accompany his daughter on a road trip in an effort to get to know his daughter again and hopefully convince her not to move so far away from home.
The basic premise of College Road Trip has been done before numerous times. My personal favorite is an episode of The Sopranos which really showed what happened when the dual lives of Tony Soprano collided. How can Martin Lawrence compete with that? It turns out, pretty well, actually. While this won’t be winning any awards this year, as a family movie it’s not bad and Lawrence actually delivers a few heartfelt moments. It’s almost enough to make me recant what I said about Lawrence not having any acting ability in my review of Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins… almost.
Instead the overacting here belongs to Raven-Symoné, who is definitely a product of a generation weaned on Jim Carrey’s rubbery façade (see also: the similarly aged Amanda Bynes). While Raven-Symoné is able to perform reasonably well for the movie’s few dramatic father/daughter moments, most of her comedic performance is way over the top, with facial expressions so overdone even a blind critic would complain. Overdone is also a good description of Donny Osmond and Molly Ephraim’s preppy father/daughter team, but in their case it’s a welcome acting choice, perfect for the annoying characters they play. Osmond and Ephraim aren’t in College Road Trip anywhere near as much as trailers would lead you to believe, which is a shame. There could have been a complete movie about those characters and I would have enjoyed it. This is not an invitation to Disney to make such a movie, however.
The biggest disappointment about College Road Trip is that the writers didn’t seem to have enough story to make a decent sized movie, so the travels of father and daughter is interrupted by a second, altogether different movie. Enter Porter’s son, Trey (Eugene Jones III), some sort of prodigy who has trained a pig to be super smart. The pig’s story is also a rehash of stories we’ve seen Disney do before, like That Darn Cat or The Ugly Dashhound, only with a pig. It has nothing to do with the primary storyline, however, and feels like an interruption when the pig becomes the focus of the movie. Another interruption allows Raven-Symoné to showcase her singing skills in a rendition of “Double Dutch Bus”. I recognize that any good Disney endeavor these days has to include a musical opportunity for the ingénue. I just wish it wasn’t so blatant that that’s the motivation behind the interruption to the story.
College Road Trip is not the disaster I expected it to be based on Lawrence’s other recent release, but it’s not a memorable film either. It decently entertained the audience I viewed it with (especially the kids, and with a complete absence of potty humor!) but I warrant most of them won’t remember seeing the movie in a couple of weeks. It’s fun while it lasts, but when the Road Trip ends it’s just another version of stories we’ve seen do the same thing better in the past.