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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Camp Nowhere': A Place to Showcase Actors

August 26, 1994|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The ingenious and amusing "Camp Nowhere" fulfills every summer camp veteran's dream of escaping all those killjoy rules, while spotlighting the antic talents of Christopher Lloyd.

Lloyd, the eccentric Doc of the "Back to the Future" trilogy and Uncle Fester in "The Addams Family" movies, plays anarchic Dennis Van Welker, an exuberant former junior high drama teacher relieved of his duties after he thought it would be a good idea to attempt a musical version of "Silence of the Lambs."

He's living in a ramshackle trailer when he's recruited by Morris "Mud" Himmel (Jonathan Jackson), a bright adolescent who's come up with a grand scheme to set up an alternative summer camp so that he and his classmates can escape those dreaded places their parents have in mind.

The idea is that Van Welker will impersonate a computer nerd camp director to impress Mud's rigid father (Peter Scolari), who wants to send his son off to Camp Microchippewa. He will then impersonate directors of military, diet and theater summer camps so that Mud's closest friends--and virtually all his classmates--will likewise be free of such regulated summers.

Van Welker does so well that Mud is able to collect sufficient parental funds to rent the run-down Camp Nowhere, where he and his pals will be able to enjoy a summer of fun without adult regulations.

The kids soon discover that there aren't any good times without responsibility--somebody has to be a leader, everybody has to pitch in for KP duties.

This provides the background for Lloyd to carry on gleefully as Van Welker, whom writers/executive producers Andrew Kurtzman and Eliot Wald deftly bring back into the action after the youngsters have had a chance to experience the exhilaration of total freedom.

Although Van Welker is always an eager participant in the kids' evasions from all representatives of authority, he's not as irresponsible as he seems, keeping an eye on the campers while stimulating their imaginations. Under feature debuting director Jonathan Prince, the film proceeds jauntily to its inspired climax, involving a complicated series of Parents' Day hoaxes.

A painstaking, well-crafted effort, "Camp Nowhere" showcases Lloyd's winning, offbeat presence to maximum advantage while providing an opportunity for a raft of young people to shine.

No less impressive than the highly focused Jackson are Andrew Keegan, as a rebel more sensitive and intelligent than he likes to acknowledge; Marne Patterson, as a pretty, ultra-popular girl whose mother (Kate Mulgrew) is pushing her hard into an acting career; and Melody Kay, whose perfectly normal amount of baby fat sets her mother (Maryedith Burrell) into diet frenzy.

Other adult roles are capably played by, among others, Wendy Makkena as an attractive and delightful physician who attracts Lloyd, M. Emmet Walsh as a comically intrepid repo man and Burgess Meredith as the laid-back owner of Camp Nowhere.

* MPAA rating: PG, for some mild adolescent language and sensuality. Times guidelines: The awakening of sexual attraction is treated with exceptional sensitivity and taste.

'Camp Nowhere'

Christopher Lloyd: Dennis Van Welker

Jonathan Jackson: Mud Himmel

Wendy Makkena: Dr. Celeste Dunbar

M. Emmet Walsh: T.R. Polk.

A Buena Vista release of a Hollywood Pictures presentation. Director Jonathan Prince. Producer Michael Peyser. Executive producers-writers Andrew Kurtzman and Eliot Wald. Cinematographer Sandi Sissel. Editor Jon Poll. Costumes Sherry Thompson. Music David Lawrence. Production designer Rusty Smith. Art director Keith Neely. Set decorator James I. Samson. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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