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STOP! Do not procreate. I repeat. Do not procreate.

© 2003, IFC
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Camp Ovation is a summer acting retreat for kids who don't play sports, pal around with their friends, or look to their parents for guidance. These are the kids who listen to showtunes in place of hip-hop, and sing Sondheim tunes on the bus ride to the camp. "Camp" (IMDb listing) is the story of the latest crop of teens arriving at Camp Ovation, and their struggle to deal with family, friends, sexual partners, and former-composers-now-boozehound counselors, all while going through the blitzkrieg of putting on a show every two weeks to entertain the locals.

"Camp" is writer/actor Todd Graff's directing debut. Probably best known for his role as "Hippy" in James Cameron's 1989 masterpiece, "The Abyss," Graff apparently hasn't learned much from the filmmakers he's worked with. Graff has a multitude of trouble with "Camp," which is juvenile in its characterizations, and plays at the broadest pitch seen in a film this summer. "Camp" is a heap of tired clichés, pitiful performances, and Graff's own inadequacies behind the camera. Meant as a celebration of talented youth and the personal perseverance of the persecuted, the film appears more as one extended afterschool special, with musical numbers in place of commercial breaks. The teen issues presented in the film are laudable, but graceless, and written without much plausibility. Graff adds insult to injury by encouraging overacting from the performers, which turns "Camp" into camp. Maybe this was the goal? Sadly, Graff's script isn't organic enough to answer that question.

For a film about instinctual talent, "Camp" has chosen to use prerecorded songs for the music in the film. This is a curious decision by Graff, when his film is basically about the power of the live performance. Whether or not these kids can actually sing live is never put to the test, as when they open their mouths, a slick rendering of whatever song they've chosen is placed in their mouths. The only elements "Camp" has going for it are the musical sequences, which bring in the light and vitality the rest of the film could use in spades. The sequences also prevent the characters from speaking Graff's dialog, which is a sweet trade-off I wish the film had taken more advantage of. The dubbing takes away the immediacy and power of the singers, who are some seriously talented teens. Why Graff elected to pass on live recordings, I will never know. In doing this, he places a nagging contradiction in his movie, and those feelings never leave the film.

All the dancing, signing, and Sondheim cameos in the world can't save "Camp" from actor Daniel Letterle. Delivering an exceedingly horrible performance, Letterle sinks a film already riddled with holes. He plays Vlad, the charming newbie to the camp who is desired by all, hetero and homo alike, and enjoys every last minute of it. Granted, Letterle is saddled with Graf's dreadful direction and screenplay, which actually contains the line, "Are you. A. Gay?" So can one really blame Letterle? Yes, I think so. Obviously hired for his looks, Letterle has trouble spitting out his dialog, and relies far too much on trying to "cute" up a scene with his smirks and Jethro Bodine-like intellect. He fits the bill as the object of desire, but once he opens his mouth, one wonders how in the heck he made it through the "Camp" auditions to win the role. Surely, there are other handsome boys who could act just a little bit. Indicative of Graff's overall abilities as a filmmaker, Letterle is a struggle to watch onscreen. He's on an Alicia Witt-in-"Urban Legends" level of bad, and that's something I never thought I would see twice in a lifetime.

Due to the blinding musical numbers, I could see the Broadway-obsessed finding hope and joy in "Camp." However, I hope they also see how lousy the dramatics in the film are. Although it's supposed to be a film about a fun-filled place to escape the summer months, the last place I would want to go is this "Camp."

Filmfodder Grade: D

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