Review – Is THIS Your Card? (“Magic Camp”)

Originally shot in 2017, this movie was fraught with troubles, from actor Jeffery Tambor facing sexual harassment charges to actor J.J. Totah undergoing a sex-change operation. Then there were the SIX screenwriters and numerous story changes, and all from an original script written by Steve Martin. Whew! Did all that ruin the movie? We’ll see…

If you combined School of Rock, Meatballs, and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, you’d get this movie. Nestled in the mountains lies the Institute of Magic aka Magic Camp, run by the prestigious magician Roy Preston (Tambor). He recruits other magic alumni to join him at the camp as counselors to the kids, but he has his hands full with his choices, has-been Andy Tuckerman (Adam DeVine) and Vegas headliner, Kristina Darkwood (Gillian Jacobs), who was once Andy’s old partner. One the pair get their respective cabins at the camp, we are introduced to the kids, a clichéd bunch of kids you’ve seen in every movie ever.

Andy gets the misfit newbies like Theo (Nathaniel McIntyre) a card pro, but lost his dad and lacks confidence, bunny-obsessed Ruth (Isabella Crovetti), Judd (Totah), the son of a famous magician but doesn’t like magic, hypochondriac nerdy Nathan (Cole Sand) who’s a math genius, and the others. They’re having constant run-ins with Kristina’s older cabin kids. And yes, they’re the trouble-makers, of course, especially camp bully Vic (Hayden Crawford), who’s about as nasty and narcissistic as they come. But in that cabin is also spoiled rich girl Janelle (Bianca Grava) who develops a crush for Theo.

Roy tells the campers that the culmination of their learning will be them doing a full-on magic show in his personal theater (it’s the High St Arts Center in Moorpark, btw) and the winner will get the much-coveted Golden Wand award. So, both Andy and Kristina teach their respective houses the art of magic, while Andy also passes along his sage knowledge and wise words to the impressionable children. I’m kidding, Andy is a doofus and can barely manage his own life. Slowly, but surely, each kid learns some magical skill, while Judd leans toward fashion design. Ruth abandons her bunnies and gravitates toward raptor birds because of her new “blood lust”. Oh, there’s a running rabbit gag throughout the movie, too.

Cue the forced romance between Andy & Kristina, Theo & Janelle, the good kids squaring off with the nasty kids, lotsa magic tricks being taught, hijinks galore, and that final magic show for the parents that brings it all together at the end. Like I said, SIX screenwriters whipped up a paint-by-the-numbers, cliché-riddled movie that hits every trope you’ve ever seen in every movie ever. The dull, boring story isn’t imaginable or new, but steals from every camp movie ever made, even using the same identical cut-out characters. Roy even apes Bill Murray’s “campers announcements” from Meatballs! Shameless!!

Director Mark Waters (Bad Santa 2, Mr. Popper’s Penquins) has a nice touch here and there are some moments that are worth mentioning. Adam DeVine (doing his best Jack Black impression) is good here without being too obnoxious and young Nathaniel McIntyre is quite impressive as Theo, the would-be magician who lost his father. But the one to watch is Isabella Crovetti as the bunny-loving Ruth. Every time she’s on-screen, she steals every scene with her perfect facial expressions and line delivery. This kid is excellent!!

There simply isn’t enough Gillian Jacobs, for my money, as her story is far more interesting and needed to be fleshed out more. The rest of the cast are pretty two-dimensional; all of them just like the kind you’d see on the Disney Channel (and most of them are!). This film is definitely for the younger crowd, it’s a harmless bit of fluff that’s mildly entertaining and rated G for them.

Streaming exclusively on Disney +

Meatballs (1979)

Setting the gold standard in Camp movies, this 1979 movie gem launched Bill Murray’s career as a bonafide movie star and was co-written by Harold Ramis and directed by Ivan Reitman, both future Ghostbusters alumni along with Murray. AND it also had a porn star in it as well!

Camp North Star is about the bottom of the barrel camp for kids as there is, with a goofy bunch of teenage C.I.T.’s (counselors-in-training) and their loyal adult counselors who make this job their passion. Like happy-go-lucky Tripper Harrison (Murray) who rules the roost as the guy’s head counselor, and Roxanne (Kate Lynch), the girl’s head counselor and Trip’s would-be girlfriend. Then, of course, there’s clueless Camp director, Morty Melnick (Harvey Atkin) who everyone always calls “Mickey”.

After the kids arrive at the camp and the C.I.T.’s are assigned their cabins, we are introduced to Rudy Gerner (Chris Makepeace), a lonely boy who just doesn’t quite fit in with the others. He doesn’t even know how to play soccer and is humiliated one day trying to play the game. But he finds a friend in Tripper, who takes the young boy under his wing and goes jogging with him, plays blackjack, and teaches him how to make his daily camp announcements.

Meanwhile, hijinks ensue as the guys play practical jokes on a sleeping Morty, spy on the girl’s cabins, and go on over-nights. A romance blossoms between Wheels (Todd Hoffman) who had broken up with A.L. (porn star Kristine DeBell) the year before, but will that overshadow the other possible romances of Candace (Sarah Torgov) and Crockett (Russ Banham) or between geeky Spaz (Jack Blum) and Jackie (Margot Pinvidic)? But they all take a back seat to Tripper and Roxanne who have a love/hate relationship going on.

However, all of that will have to wait as the BIG day arrives! The Camp Olympics with the wealthy camp from across the lake, Camp Mohawk! There are sporting events like baseball, wrestling, swimming, eating hot dogs (my favorite scene), stacking cups & saucers, and finally, a four-mile cross-country run that will determine the winner. But when runner Jackie is injured, Trip offers Rudy as the substitute runner in the contest, much to the dismay of the others. Will Rudy take up the challenge? Will he win not only the race but his self-respect? And how can Morty sleep so deeply??

Written by Ramis, Len Blum, Dan Goldberg (all from Stripes), and newbie Janis Allen, this movie isn’t sex-crazed or raunchy like Animal House or Porkys. In fact, it’s about as G a PG film as you can get, with heaping dollops of funny and silliness mixed in with sweetness and a nice message at the end. But the real pleasure of this film is watching Bill Murray unleashed. Almost all of his scenes were ad-libbed and unscripted and it’s a joy to see him just improv his way through a scene. Take the famous, “It just doesn’t matter scene”, in the lunchroom. Murray ad-libbed everything! Watch the others, all that laughter from them is real, as they had no idea what he was going to say.

This movie also spawned three other sequels but they all sucked. Badly. Not one has any of the original cast or written by any of the original writers. And every one of them trying to capitalize on the fame of the original title. Result? They all crashed and burned in the process.

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