Happy Campers = Unhappy reviewer
Last year, Brad Renfro actually appeared in a good film — the generally acclaimed Ghost World, which managed to break away from the normal clichéd teen movie with an innovative story about coming-of-age that doesn’t end with quite the typical we-survived-and-now-we-take-our-place-as-a-normal-adult scenario. The story originated from a comic book of the same title. Last year, Brad Renfro appeared in another film that you might think had a comic book origin, but in this case, that would be giving comics a bad name. No, this film comes from an original screenplay that deals with that favourite locale of films about sex-starved teens — summer camp. The title — Happy Campers. The DVD source — New Line. Whoopee!
Camp Bleeding Dove opens for the summer. The camp counselors examine the latest counselors’ manual, openly questioning its value, only to be interrupted by the arrival of the season’s first group of campers. In charge of the camp is someone named Oberon, a fascist with headphones. Things seem to get off to a normal start, but it is soon evident that sex is the only activity of real interest. The counselors talk about it and try to figure out how to have it with each other; Oberon is obsessed with making sure his counselors aren’t having it; and the campers think about it, or make jokes about it, but principally try to catch the counselors at it.
This is one of the most stupid wastes of time and money ever put on film. The story, such as it is, is completely unoriginal, illogical, and boring in the extreme. It’s filled with all the camp stereotypes you can think of — the perky camp counselor named Wendy, the handsome stud of a counselor called Wichita, a geek counselor, a token gay counselor, a fascist head of the camp, and the usual assortment of veteran and novice, leader and follower campers. Then throw in a few old chestnuts such as the storm that leaves the camp without power, a food fight, the fat kid who always gets teased, and on and on. When it’s not a stereotype or a plot twist we’ve seen before, it’s just plain stupid. For example, the camp leader gets electrocuted by a lightning strike and spends most of the film wandering in the woods in a daze. Meanwhile, parent-visiting day passes without any apparent question as to who’s in command. How camp manages to go on when none of the counselors ever demonstrate any decent level of competence is a mystery. I never thought I’d be able to say anything good about a turkey such as Ernest Goes to Camp, but compared to Happy Campers, it’s a masterpiece.
The script is attributed to Daniel Waters. I gather it’s his first script since 1993’s Demolition Man. I guess he needed the eight years between to fine tune the Happy Campers masterpiece to its final level of perfection. I notice all the Internet Movie Database says about him is that he owns the house that Orson Welles died in and that he’s the elder brother of Mark Waters (whoever he is). Apparently, a lot of people recognized the script for what it was, since Waters ended up directing it himself. As a job of directing, I guess I’ve seen worse. The problem with that is that without some marked incompetence in the direction for us to notice, we just end up focusing on the rest of the film’s inadequacies. [Editor’s Note: In Daniel Waters’ defense, he also wrote excellent screenplays for Heathers and Batman Returns.]
I guess New Line has little in the way of product to release on DVD when it bothers with Happy Campers. It gives us two versions of the film: 1.85:1 anamorphic and full frame. The widescreen version is a fair enough presentation. The picture is sharp and clear, and colours seem accurate if a little muted. Edge enhancement is not a concern.
Two audio tracks are also offered: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo Surround. Both are unremarkable. There nothing in the film to give a 5.1 mix a workout, never mind a 2.0 one. Directional and low frequency effects appear non-existent. A mono track would have served the film quite sufficiently. English subtitles are included.
Presumably realizing belatedly that more than enough money had been invested in the disc, New Line gives us exactly zero supplementary material. Thumbs-up from your intrepid reviewer for this favour.
Bad film + mediocre disc = no sale and no rental.