May 28, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Brian Cates
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of Oklahoma, the comedy film “Family Camp” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two families, who have to share a yurt during a Christian vacation camp, become fierce rivals in the camp’s physical competitions, and then the family patriarchs both get lost in the woods together.
Culture Audience: “Family Camp” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in faith-based comedies that have no creative imagination and a lot of predictability.
“Family Camp” is a dreadfully unfunny ripoff of other comedies about families at a vacation campground. The kid characters are nice, but their annoying parents unfortunately get most of the screen time. “Family Camp” is a faith-based movie, but people looking for entertaining comedic talent in this repetitive and predictable tripe will have their faith and their patience thoroughly tested and then completely obliterated, if there’s any hope that the movie will get better as it goes along. “Family Camp” is formulaic junk that goes from bad to worse.
Directed by Brian Cates (who co-wrote the abysmal “Family Camp” screenplay with Rene Gutteridge), “Family Camp” is essentially a thinly veiled vanity project for the Skit Guys, the comedy duo consisting of longtime friends Tommy Woodard and Eddie James. If “Family Camp” is the first time that people will be introduced to the Skit Guys, then it will put a lot of viewers off from seeing anything else that the Skit Guys have to offer. The movie is supposed to be about two families, but the last third of the movie is pretty much about the feuding characters played by Woodard and James getting lost in the woods together.
“Family Camp” (which is set in Oklahoma) is so simple-minded, at least it’s very easy to follow the plot. Too bad the plot is so stupid, your brain will feel numb from the experience of watching all the corny, awful and boring scenarios that the “Family Camp” filmmakers are trying to pass off as comedy. Most of the movie’s adult characters are whiny, fake or aggressively obnoxious.
The beginning of “Family Camp” shows married couple Tommy Ackerman (played by Woodard) and Grace Ackerman (played by Leigh-Allyn Baker) in church with their two children: Hannah Ackerman (played by Cece Kelly) and Henry Ackerman (played by Jacob M. Wade). Hannah is 16 years old, while Henry is about 11 or 12 years old. Grace is annoyed with Tommy because he showed up late for this church service.
But that’s not the only thing she’s irritated about when it comes to Tommy. Grace thinks that Tommy, who works as a senior investment strategist, is too much of a workaholic who’s been neglecting his family. When the church’s Pastor Dave (played by Mark Christopher Lawrence) announces to the congregation some details about an annual Christian family retreat at a place called Camp Katokwah, Grace tells Tommy that if he wants to make up for all the time that he missed with his family, their family needs to go on this week-long camping trip. (Camp Katokwah is a fictional name. “Family Camp” was actually filmed at Central Oklahoma Camp in Guthrie, Oklahoma.)
Tommy is very resistant to taking this trip, because it’s coming at a time when he’s being considered for a job promotion. Tommy is in a bitter rivalry for the promotion with a cutthroat co-worker named Bramburger (played by Brandon Potter), who doesn’t hesitate to lie, cheat and steal to get what he wants. Tommy and Bramburger have been trying to get the same client, named Mr. Kapoor (played by Mathew Chacko), who is a wealthy businessman.
Tommy thinks that going on this camping trip will put him at a distinct disadvantage to get the promotion. The movie has some time-wasting scenes where Tommy uses his phone to keep track of Bramburger and his sneaky ways of trying to win over Mr. Kapoor. One of Bramburger’s backstabbing tactics includes impersonating Tommy in an in-person interview with Mr. Kapoor. It makes no sense for Bramburger to pretend to be Tommy in this interview, since Bramburger wants to be the one to get the credit for signing Mr. Kapoor as a client. It’s an example of how poorly written the “Family Camp” screenplay is.
Even though Tommy doesn’t want to spend time away from his job, there would be no “Family Camp” movie if Tommy didn’t agree to go on this trip. He does so reluctantly, and he immediately regrets it when the Ackerman family gets to Camp Katokwah and finds out that the camp never got the Ackermans’ last installment of the required payment. All of the cabins on the campground are sold out, so the Ackermans have to share a yurt with another family. It’s a yurt with no WiFi service and no air conditioning.
The other family sharing the yurt also consists of a married couple with two underage children. Eddie Sanders (played by James) and his wife Victoria Sanders (played by Gigi Orsillo) have fraternal twins: son Ed Sanders Jr. (played by Elias Kemuel) and daughter Barb (played by Keslee Grace Blalock), who are both about 11 or 12 years old. Eddie is a loudmouth chiropractor, who always wants people to think he’s the biggest “alpha male,” but he’s really an insecure buffoon with terrible social skills. Victoria is a stereotypical younger “trophy wife” who’s obsessed with the family’s image on social media.
One of the first things that Eddie tells Tommy is that Eddie and his family are the reigning champs of Camp Katokwah’s physical challenge tournament, where the winning family gets a trophy. The tournament consists of families competing in challenges such as obstacle courses, archery, pie-eating contests with hands tied behind their backs, and body-slamming competitions where people are encased in giant plastic bubbles. As soon as Eddie brags about his champion status, you know that a lot of this movie is going to be about the Ackerman family versus the Sanders family in these challenges.
And sure enough, the movie has several scenes where these two families face off against each other in these challenges. Grace and Victoria become competitive with each other. But their rivalry is nothing compared to how Eddie and Tommy take the competition to a super-personal level, as if they have to prove their manhood, and as if their reputations as husbands and fathers depend on winning this superficial trophy. To make matters worse, since the Sanders family and Ackerman family have to share living quarters at this camp, they can’t really get away from each other, so any hard feelings about winning or losing start to fester and boil over.
The movie has some not-very-funny jokes about the Sanders family being strict vegans, and the Ackerman parents ridiculing the Sanders family’s eating habits. And there’s a silly scene in the camp cafeteria where Tommy chokes on his food, but he’s saved when Eddie does the Heimlich maneuver on Tommy. Eddie gets a standing ovation from the cafeteria crowd because of it. The praise just fuels Eddie’s already overblown ego.
Eddie is by far the most repulsive of these four parents. He often grabs people to give them uncomfortable chiropractic crunches without their consent. When Eddie notices that Henry is not very athletic and has a tendency to become afraid, Eddie taunts Tommy over it and says that Henry will probably grow up to be a socially inept hoarder. It’s a cruel thing to say about a harmless kid. Eddie also plays the harmonica when no one really wants to hear him play. And that means he’s a blowhard in more ways than one.
Meanwhile, Victoria and Grace, who seem to be homemakers since they don’t talk about having their own careers, end up confessing to each other some of the problems they’re experiencing in their respective marriages. In other words, it all comes back to the narrative really being about Eddie and Tommy. “Family Camp” makes a half-hearted attempt hinting that Victoria might want some independence from her husband, but the movie never details what she wants to do with her life that would make her more independent.
The kids are sidelined so that the story can mainly be about the egotistical adults in the Ackerman and Sanders families. Hannah has a brief and inconsequential storyline of meeting a teenage guy named Corbin (played by Clayton Royal Johnson) at the camp and getting a mild crush on him. Corbin charms Hannah by playing acoustic guitar and telling her that she’s the prettiest girl at Camp Katokwa.
Later, when Corbin tries to kiss her, Hannah has to show him she’s “not that kind of girl.” And when he immediately loses interest in her, Hannah gets revenge by pushing Corbin over a bridge walkway and into a lake. It’s not spoiler information, because this push is in the movie’s trailer.
The movie’s Camp Katokwa employees are very forgettable. The leader of Camp Katokwah is named Joel (played by Robert Amaya), who isn’t shown doing much except emcee the camp’s competitions and entertainment. The camp’s chief cook is named—get ready to groan—Cookie (played by Heather Land), who doesn’t do much but stand around in the kitchen and share emcee duties with Joel.
The last third of “Family Camp” reaches putrid levels of stupidity when Eddie and Tommy get lost in the woods together, which means more bickering from these two bozos. There’s no mention of why they didn’t have their cell phones with them when they went into the woods. Henry gets lost in the woods too, but an underage child who goes missing is not as important in this movie as giving a lot of screen time to two men acting like insufferable brats. It gets tiresome very quickly.
And there are two more adult dolts in the woods: loathsome and cretinous reality TV stars who are named Slim (played by Myke Holmes) and Beef (played by Weston Vrooman), whose main claim to fame is being on a TV series showing Beef and Slim looking for the legendary creature Big Foot. Viewers can easily predict what will happen when Slim and Beef encounter Eddie and Tommy, especially when Eddie always seems to find a way to mouth off and get people angry.
In addition to the poorly written screenplay, “Family Camp” (which is Cates’ feature-film directorial debut) has terrible editing and substandard visual effects. One of the worst parts of the movie is a very fake-looking beaver in the woods. This beaver has human-like characteristics and mannerisms, which are supposed to make the beaver look cute and cuddly, but it just looks creepy and phony.
There’s also a scene where idiotic Eddie rips a slab of honeycomb from a tree and gets stung all over his face by a swarm of bees that were on the honeycomb. Tommy gives Eddie an emergency injection of epinephrine that Eddie just happens to have with him. Just a few minutes after this injection, Eddie’s bee stings have magically and unrealistically disappeared, and the bee stings are never mentioned again in the movie.
No one is expecting a movie like “Family Camp” to be Oscar-caliber, but a movie like this doesn’t have to constantly insult viewers’ intelligence. And even if a comedy has a mindless plot and mediocre acting, it should at least have some central characters that people will care about in a way to maintain viewer interest. “Family Camp” made the colossal mistake of having repugnant boor Eddie as the focus of the terrible jokes. He’s worse than the bees that stung him because viewers are stuck with him for the entire movie, which is polluted by the stink of lazy and low-quality filmmaking.
Roadside Attractions, K-LOVE Films and Provident Films released “Family Camp” in U.S. cinemas on May 13, 2022. Lionsgate Home Entertainment will release “Family Camp” on digital and VOD on June 28, 2022.