College Road Trip (G) ★★

Review Date: March 7th, 2008

Although it doesn't hit on all cylinders, the somewhat emotionally resonant College Road Trip represents the same Disney caramel center at each one of its chocolate-coated candy films.


College Road Trip also gets a PhD in shrillness. Patience is required. Martin Lawrence plays an upper middle-class suburban dad whose intelligent, high-school senior daughter, Melanie (Raven-Symone), is vacillating between Northwestern and Georgetown universities. As a police officer who doesn't want his daughter going to parties, he's an overprotective father in the most general way possible. He wants her closer to home--but she, in turn, wants to spread her wings. When Melanie is tempted by friends to embark on a cross-country road trip to tour colleges, she can't resist. Wouldn't you know it? Dad can't control himself either and invites himself along to be a driving companion. He's more like the chaperone from hell, of course. At its best, College Road Trip is about a father letting go of his daughter as she reaches young adulthood. He struggles with the empty-nesting but soon trusts her good judgment to become her own person.


The comic performances are serviceable. Playing compellingly funny for a G-rated audience is a challenge, especially for a usually raunchy comedian like Lawrence. The actor has to stretch his chops in the physical comedy scenes, broadening his approach to charm the targeted younger audiences, but he's also hammy enough for adults. While Symone is long-established (at age 22) in family programming with her shows That's So Raven and The Cosby Show, she's a rare commodity in this under-appreciated genre. This film is her first feature, which she also produces, and though disposable, she has a nice start to her adult career. And speaking of hamming it up, Donny Osmond, as another father sending his kid to college, puts in an over-the-top annoying performance that should outrage thespians everywhere. Lucas Grabeel (High School Musical) is the strongest asset, in a small role as nerdy Scooter. Disney even stocks the bench with its in-house Disney Channel players, such as Brenda Song (The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) and Margo Harshman (Even Stevens).


A director such as Roger Kumble is a uniquely Hollywood creation: an affable man who has directed bombs such as The Sweetest Thing and Just Friends but who keeps getting hired anyway. He can be relied on to craft studio friendly, paint-by-the-number movies we've seen before that bathe young audiences in a wave of familiarity. College Road Trip is a movie with broadly conceived comic scenarios--from a skydiving scene to a cute pig who steals scenes. But it also touches the heartstrings, such as a touching dramatic montage of little Melanie growing up, which saves the movie from total banality. The G-rated family comedy is a may seem like a tough sell in today's multi-faceted market, but then again, Disney live-action films such as The Pacifier and The Game Plan have already proven that theory wrong. College Road Trip may follow suit.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.