I'm a sucker for films about camp.
I confess. Camp films are my guilty pleasure. Meatballs? I loved it. Ernest Goes to Camp? It still makes me laugh like a schoolboy. Space Camp? Camp Nowhere? Addams Family Values? Moonrise Kingdom? Troop Beverly Hills? Troop Zero?
Love. Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.
The truth is that I didn't realize that Lisa Arnold's Camp Cool Kids is essentially a faith-based camp flick when I stumbled across while browsing through the Amazon directory one day in hopes of finding a film to play in the background during my COVID-19 work from home gig.
Camp Cool Kids is the kind of film that most critics hate. While not without its flaws, Camp Cool Kids is also a film I loved.
I loved Spence (newcomer Connor Rosen), a dweebish kid with a much cooler older brother, Zach (Logan Shroyer), whose father has recently passed away leaving them with their mother (Leigh-Allyn Baker) and their quirky ole' gramps (Michael Gross).
Zach, with classic good looks and all the cool friends, doesn't exactly enjoy hanging out with his overly nerdy, insecure just about everything brother. With the two of them scheduled to head off for two weeks of summer camp in advance of an upcoming big move, Spence is either going to emotionally implode or learn how to face his fears.
I'm pretty sure we know what happens.
Most of these "nerd makes good" camp films are formulaic and predictable and impossibly good-hearted with more than a little hijinks along the way. While Camp Cool Kids tosses in faith along the way, it also follows this predictable formula in telling its paint-by-numbers story that hits all the right notes and intentionally taps into all of those "aw shucks" warm and fuzzy feelings.
In other words, it did exactly what I wanted it to do and it did it well.
The faith element in Camp Cool Kids is played intentionally yet lightly, the story's righteous bones obviously intact along with the sense that being Christian isn't enough to keep you from playing more than a few pranks when left to your own devices in a cabin full of peers. While there's some mean-spirited behavior to be found here, I liked how Camp Cool Kids dealt with it - "Kids will be kids!," but kids can also be taught a better way.
Indeed, everyone here seems to come around to the better way.
Connor Rosen brought to mind an even more timid Chris Makepeace, a believably socially awkward pre-teen struggling to figure out where and with whom he fits in. Logan Shroyer was also refreshing in a role that could have easily been one-note, instead portraying Zach as a cool kid who gets caught up in behavior he doesn't enjoy and who ends up being a much better kid than we expect early on.
Familiar faces like Markie Post and Michael Gross are welcome here. Post, most remembered for her time on the Night Court television series, adds a delightful, sincere spark here that makes you wish she was on the screen even more. Michael Gross? Let's be honest. He could play this role in his sleep, but he doesn't. Ever since his days on Family Ties, Gross has worked steadily and yet continues to bring out that paternal spirit that makes you smile the minute you see him on the screen.
Kudos should also be given to Abigail Duhon, a Christian singer who shows up here as one of the older campers and certainly one of the wiser ones. For both Zach and Spence she seems to serve as a moral compass, befriending both and admonishing them when they detour down the wrong road. It's a sweet role and Duhon brings complete and utter sincerity to it.
Camp Cool Kids isn't the best film of the year. Heck, I even understand why it's two critical reviews aren't exactly kind. It kinda sorta fits that faith-based film stereotype of "aw shucks" goodness, but truthfully I enjoyed that goodness and its heart and a spirit that, while not exactly cinematically challenging, was incredibly enjoyable to watch from beginning to end.
Camp Cool Kids was picked up by indie distributor Vision Films and is currently available on Amazon Prime. In this time of hunkering down and staying inside, it's a fun, family friendly, and occasionally icky film for the kids and the adults who remember what it was like to be a kid.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic