Cuba Gooding, Jr. Has No Elvis in Him

Dude, your face could freeze like thatSaw “Daddy Day Camp” yesterday. My Metro review is here. I’m sure it doesn’t tell you anything you don’t already know.

Who keeps telling Cuba Gooding, Jr. that he can do comedies? Who keeps casting him in them? At this point, his presence in anything other than a drama is a huge red flag — specifically, one that says the people who made the movie don’t care about the outcome, or don’t know what they’re doing, period.

The people who made “Daddy Day Camp” know what they’re doing. They’re creating a product designed to appeal to undiscerning families who just want to watch kids run around and make various messes while the hapless grown-ups yell impotently. (“Daddy Day Care” was more or less the same, only they were inside instead of outdoors.)

It’s like those videos of kittens romping or babies sleeping; elements like story and production value are just means to an end, the end being DVD sales. And “Daddy Day Camp”, like “Daddy Day Care”, will probably be successful at meeting its goal.

But it’s not entertaining, not in the slightest, because Cuba Gooding, Jr. kills every single potentially funny moment with his dead-eyed mugging and screechy antics. In the first film, Eddie Murphy brought the tiniest suggestion of edge to his ranting and running around; even if your heart hurt at the sight of this brilliant comedian reduced to starring in a terrible kiddie movie, you couldn’t deny his eyes were dancing.

Gooding, on the other hand, just looks terrified and desperate most of the time, as if he’d do anything not to be in this movie. Whether that’s the sign of an excellent dramatic actor playing the reality of every scene, or an actor with absolutely no sense of play, it kills what little energy “Daddy Day Camp” has.

Robert Zemeckis tells a story about why he replaced Eric Stoltz with Michael J. Fox two weeks into shooting “Back to the Future”. In the big chase sequence — the one where Marty McFly skateboards over Biff Tannen’s car — Fox, he said, had a way of inviting the audience to share the adventure. Stoltz, on the other hand, just looked scared.

Maybe that’s all it is.