Friday, June 10, 2011

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

Review by Pete Roche

Precocious third-grader Judy Moody (Jordana Beatty) is determined to have the best summer ever.  Too bad she’s too preoccupied tabulating “Thrill Points” to actually have a good time.

Judy’s banjo-plucking teacher, Mr. Todd (Jaleel White), challenges the garishly-attired girl and her 3T classmates to find him about town over summer.  It’s just one of many goals Judy includes on her Thrill Chart, which she explains to friends in her secret club.  But her buddies won’t even be around to share the summer; Rocky is going to circus camp and Amy’s off to Borneo to research lost tribes with her journalist mother.  Judy’s parents are leaving, too—California-bound to nurse a sick relative—leaving Judy home with her Bigfoot-obsessed little brother, “Stink.” 

They’ll be supervised (barely) by Aunt Opal—which doesn’t sound promising until one learns Dad’s sister is blue-eyed bombshell Heather Graham.  Opal’s a bohemian “guerilla artist” who uses paper mache, glitter glue, and bric-a-brac to transform blasé objects like trash can lids into personal statements.  She can’t cook, drive, or vacuum—but she’s brought presents for the children.  Stink is given a book about hunting Sasquatch.  Judy receives a mood ring.  Like, get it?

Judy gets it. She takes an immediate liking to Opal, whose five-alarm arrival prompts her to abandon self-imposed bedroom exile and be a dedicated thrill-seeker.  Her magic 8-ball offers encouragement, assuring Judy it will “without a doubt” be the not-bummer summer implied in the title.

Intrepid Judy stays in touch with Rocky and Amy on the Internet, challenging them to keep up with points despite their absence.  Trouble is, the photos and postcards they send her suggest they’re having way more fun.  Judy and neighborhood doofus Frank restage some of their friends’ wilder stunts, like tightrope-walking and elephant riding—but nothing goes right.  Soaking wet and ashamed, Judy subtracts points from the chart—whose scoring system is never quite explained—without realizing that hey, sometimes things are more fun when they don’t work out as planned.

Judy gets barfed on and caught in her own Bigfoot trap.  She gets ditched at a horror movie.  She gets lost with Aunt Opal at an abandoned amusement park.  She scours her Virginia suburb for Mr. Todd—but the trail goes cold.

Directed by fam-friendly filmmaker John Schultz (LIKE MIKE, ALIENS IN THE ATTIC), the scattershot picture plays like a stretched episode of some kid’s show on Nickelodeon.  There are lots of quick cuts, and overemphasis on gross-out gags involving tangerine fondue, toad urine, peanut butter, and animal poo.  JUDY even has animated daydream sequences like those from WIMPY KID and LIZZY MCGUIRE.  An eleventh-hour chase between a bicycle, news van, and ice cream truck proves anticlimactic—like a Popsicle melting in one’s hand on a hot August afternoon.  But such is the lesson Judy takes to heart.  The best memories—visceral, sense memories—are more often the product of imagination and spontaneity rather than itineraries and scheduling.  Sometimes life gets more exciting after the map flies out the window.  2 out of 4 stars.

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