(by Dustin Putman
"Supermegatotally thrilladelic" is the lofty tagline brandishing the poster one-sheet for "Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer." It does not accurately describe the film in question, but then, a more honest appraisal such as, "Just kind of there," probably wouldn't send kids or their parents racing to the multiplex. Based on the best-selling children's book series by Megan McDonald (who co-writes the screenplay with Kathy Waugh), this big-screen adaptation may prove faithful to its source, but that doesn't mean it makes for a movie worth sitting through. As colorful as skittles vomit and about as empty as the sick person's stomach after said candies have been thrown up, this is strictly innocuous kiddie fare made for no one older than elementary school age. Adults will be hoping for more substance—a moral or life lesson learned, perhaps some truths spoken about growing up—but they won't get it as the skinny plot devotes all its time to frivolous play and increasingly tired slapstick humor. At least it's relatively good-natured. Article continues below
Judy Moody (Jordana Beatty), prone to emotional highs and lows but little in between—perhaps she's an early candidate for bipolar disorder?—has just graduated from the third grade and is all set to have the best summer imaginable. She's created a game called the "Mega-Rare NOT Bummer Summer Dare" wherein she and her friends will earn thrill points every time they do something exciting, scary or ultra-fun, then receives the devastating news that besties Rocky (Garrett Ryan) and Amy (Taylar Hender) are going away during their break. With only the less-cool Frank (Preston Bailey) still around to hang out with, Judy is at her wit's end over how to salvage her summer. With the added news that her parents (Janet Varney, Kristoffer Winters) are also heading out of town and leaving she and younger brother Stink (Parris Mosteller) under the care of their Aunt Opal (Heather Graham), you'd think her world was about to end. Eventually, though, Judy pulls herself together, realizes Aunt Opal is fun and free-spirited, and that Frank isn't so bad to spend time with after all. Rediscovering the meaning in her life, she sets out to earn 100 thrill points by the time school starts back up.
"Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer" is as airy as a light breeze, director John Schultz (2009's "Aliens in the Attic") not even making an attempt to do more with the material than to cater to eight-year-olds by holding their attention for ninety minutes. Physical comedy covers nearly every bodily function base—a toad pees on Amy, Judy nearly eats a poop-smeared sandwich, and Frank upchucks his snow cone directly onto Judy during a roller-coaster ride—but it's harmless in an exceedingly lame sort of way. Less benign is an irresponsible scene where Aunt Opal, having not driven for several years, takes Judy and Stink on a life-threatening ride that has her crashing through front yards and, at one point, running into a plastic Bounce-N-Jump and dragging it down the street behind them. When Opal discovers that a child was inside it all along, she just cheerfully writes it off without a moment's thought to how she could have very well killed this little boy and her niece and nephew. What, pray tell, is supposed to be funny about this?
In her first major film role (she had a bit part in 2006's "Superman Returns"), Jordana Beatty is nothing if not naturally excitable and energetic in front of the camera. The focal point of nearly every scene, Beatty definitely captures one's attention even if it might have been nice to see if she could do more with her character by lending the role some levity. Judy Moody is an average little girl, likable but capable of being selfish and entitled when she doesn't get her way. At no point does she really ever learn anything of consequence; mostly, she's just preoccupied with making the most of her summer vacation. As Aunt Opal, the apparently ageless Heather Graham (2009's "The Hangover") embodies that of a "super-cool" elder while being given little chance to bring depth to the part. Aside from one mention of how she's been traveling the world, the viewer gets no sense of who she is or what her life is like. She is rarely shown actually caring for Judy and Stink, and her relationship with them is akin to that of a playmate's. Newcomer Parris Mosteller is adorable as little brother Stink, obsessed with locating a bigfoot, and the other child actors that make up Judy's unit of friends are also capable performers for what is asked of them. Forever destined to be thought of as Steve Urkel, Jaleel White (2006's "Dreamgirls") also shows up as Judy's teacher Mr. Todd, who early on sings a song to the class while, for no discernible reason, subtitled lyrics show up, karaoke-style, on the bottom of the screen.
"Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer" isn't so bad as to be offensive, but it does wear out its welcome from being so paper-thin and repetitive. The movie darts from one goofy little set-piece to the next as Judy tries to earn thrill points. Conflict is minimal, and the only rooting interest is whether or not she and Aunt Opal will be able to place hats made of bedazzled trash can lids on the heads of two stone lions perched outside the local library. Not exactly a thrill-a-minute. Meanwhile, when Judy receives a mood ring as a present, all it does is cause a no-contest comparison between itself and one of the most wise coming-of-age films ever made, 1991's "My Girl." That picture wasn't afraid to honestly explore the process of growing up, of facing life's disappointments, of learning about love and death and compassion. "Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer" explores such equally hard-hitting topics as the difficulty of tightrope walking, the dangers of eating a lot before getting on big amusement park rides, and the serious business that is joining a club for Bigfoot enthusiasts. Once you've seen it, you may never be the same again.