You may recall the Michael Keaton film, "Mr. Mom," where Keaton played a husband who's unemployed and manages the household while his wife is out working. Here, in the 2009 release "Mr. Troop Mom," George Lopez plays much the same type of guy, only this time he's a widower trying to deal with his thirteen-year-old daughter and her wilderness team. Different times, same idea.
Now, you might wonder if a story about a middle-aged man and about 800 very cute, early teenage girls out in the wild would produce a situation in somewhat questionable taste. But nope. Nothing here to fuel a Palin-Letterman controversy. "Mr. Troop Mom" is a Nickelodeon original TV movie, so squeaky clean the MPAA gave it a G rating, something usually afforded only to Disney and Pixar cartoons.
The trouble with most "family" movies, though, is that the term is a misnomer. It seems to me that good family movies should interest both children and adults, movies like the aforementioned Disney and Pixar animations, "Mary Poppins," "The Parent Trap," or "Spy Kids." Yet most filmmakers really aim their family pictures at young children, with parents obliged to put up with the films while their youngsters enjoy themselves. So it is with "Mr. Troop Mom," a film aimed squarely at families with kids, the specific appeal primarily to girls in the ten-to-fourteen year-old range. If you're an older teen or adult, I make no promises. I found it all rather bland and antiseptic but totally without offense.
Stand-up comic and TV sitcom star George Lopez co-produced and stars in "Mr. Troop Mom," another of the actor's attempts to bring wholesome entertainment and a non-stereotypical Hispanic image to movies and television. It might seem odd, then, that the movie should contain an almost nonstop string of other stereotypes and clichés, until you recognize that for children, the stereotypes and clichés probably aren't trite or overused at all.
Lopez plays a widowed lawyer, Eddie Serrano (no coincidence, I'm sure, that his real-life spouse is Ann Serrano), with a thirteen-year-old daughter, Naomi (Daniela Bobadilla), to care for. Naturally, as with almost all movies aimed at this age group, parents are either absent, invisible, or in this movie barely tolerated by their offspring. Naomi thinks her dad is completely clueless, something only encouraged by the impudent au pair, Catalina (Elizabeth Thai), an Asian woman whose Dragon Lady attitude and difficulty with the English language make her one of the movie's more unabashed stereotypes. Of course, we can see the movie's message coming in the first few minutes: Parents and their children must share common interests and mutual respect if they are ever to love one another fully. Eddie must show that he can "connect" with Naomi, or he'll lose her to...whatever.
Eddie is a flamboyant lawyer whose shenanigans no judge would actually allow in a courtroom, but, hey, it's television. In court Eddie is a winner, but at home he's losing his daughter's favor, and he knows it. So, with the daughter's annual Wilderness Team competition coming up, and the team's chaperone having a baby in his living room (I kid you not), Eddie volunteers to escort Naomi's team to the Spring Action Classic at Hulka Rock, a summer camp in the mountains. Even though Eddie's idea of roughing it in the wild is lighting the barbeque in his backyard, he decides this is the only way to show his daughter he can be a real parent. You can pretty much guess what comes next.
When he, his daughter, and three other girls arrive at Hulka Rock, he finds himself the only guy there, amongst what appear to be young girls from all over the state come to compete in various tag-team competitions. His daughter's team is the Killer Bees, and a rival team from Naomi's school is the Wasps. Wouldn't you know that the Wasps would be catty, snobby, WASPish cheaters, chaperoned by a pushy blonde mom, Denise (April Amber Telek), who's single and putting the moves on Eddie? And wouldn't you know that the head honcho of the camp, Ms. Hulka (Jane Lynch), would be a tough-as-nails martinet and that her assistant counselor, C.C. Turner (Julia Anderson), would be a sweetheart charmer?
Once in the wild, there's a lot of yelling, romping, tomfoolery, chasing around, and falling down, the whole thing getting pretty silly until about halfway through when it suddenly turns all drippy serious. Remember, Dad's got to connect with his daughter, right?
I did laugh once in the film, however, when Denise yanks a kid out her canoe. We thank Providence for small favors.
Needless to say, it all comes down to the Killer Bees vs. the Wasps in the end. What, you didn't expect that?
The acting, pacing, dialogue, and gags in "Mr. Troop Mom" are about what we have come to expect from a TV production, as is the direction of William Dear ("Angels in the Outfield," "The Sandlot 3," "Free Style"), meaning they are pretty poor by theatrical-release standards. Still, this is no theatrical release, so I suppose we can cut it some slack. It is what it is, no better, no worse. Take it at that.
Warner Bros. offer the film in two screen formats, standard (1.33:1) and wide (1.78:1) on the same side of a single DVD. It's a short film, so they can get away with it. The widescreen version that I watched provides a good deal more information left and right, and it's quite clear and clean. It's so free of grain, in fact, that it appears the filmmakers may have used digital cameras. I don't know. It reminds one of a good television broadcast, which, in fact, it probably is. Longer shots are precise in detail, especially when upscaled, and startlingly well defined; medium and close-up shots are considerably softer. Colors are the strong suit, though, showing up brilliantly and vividly, appropriate to a children's movie.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is almost aggressively bright and forward, with very little surround activity and even less bass or dynamics. For kids who have grown up listening to their music through earbuds or iPods, the movie's innocuous, constantly pulsating, pop-music background will undoubtedly sound good; to me, it was like listening to a Disney-channel children's band over an old transistor radio.
Beyond the two screen formats I mentioned above, most of the disc's extras are almost purely promotional items. First up, we get four featurettes: "George Goes to Camp," about six minutes of Lopez telling us how challenging it was to shoot on location; "Naomi's Journal," about seven-plus minutes with Daniela Bobadilla's thoughts on the filming, along with those of some of her co-stars; "Killer Bees Vs. Wasps," about five minutes on the rivalry in the story; and "Rockin' the Bonfire," about four minutes on the Naked Brothers Band, two young friends of the Lopez family who perform in the film.
In addition, there are four additional scenes, totaling about five minutes; a gag reel at about four minutes; twenty-three scene selections; various trailers at start-up; access to a digital copy of the film, compatible with Windows Media only; English as the only spoken language; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
For ten-year-olds, "Mr. Troop Mom" probably works perfectly well. As I've said, kids wouldn't have seen all the clichés before and might find them amusing. However, this adult was every minute hoping that Jason Voorhees would show up at the summer camp and dispose of a few of the actors. The movie also reminded me of how much better, funnier, and more original the summer-camp scenes were in "Meatballs" and "Addams Family Values." Oh, well....
If I had to assign the movie a film rating for children only, I'd guess and give it 6/10. Although it's ordinary, it's harmless and makes a stab at providing kids with a worthwhile moral lesson. Nevertheless, for adults I've got to say, Beware. The 5/10 rating below is a generous compromise on my part.