As a Chicago suburbs police chief, James Porter has seen danger. As a rather overprotective dad, he's determined to keep his precious daughter, Melanie, from meeting it. So it makes perfect sense to him that she should attend Northwestern University when she graduates from high school. Why? It's only 40 miles away, and he can be there in 28 minutes in case of emergencies. (He knows. He's tested the route.)
Melanie, however, has other plans. She wants to be an attorney and has her sights set on Georgetown University. But that's in Washington, D.C., over 700 miles away. James won't hear of it. No! Never! Nada!
Well ... maybe.
Circumstances and a steely-eyed wife convince James that Georgetown might be worth considering. So the controlling cop packs up a police SUV and takes his daughter on a cross-country college trip. Maybe they can bond on the way. And maybe, if he's wily enough, he'll have time to convince her to stay closer to home.
But being alone with her father for several days isn't Melanie's idea of a good time. Then, to make matters worse, her kid brother, Trey, and his pet pig turn up as backseat stowaways. And when they all end up traveling with another daddy-daughter duo—who constantly break into singing show tunes at the slightest provocation—Melanie is afraid she'll lose her mind. If only they can make it to Georgetown, it just might be all worth it.
James is an overprotective and controlling individual. But he is also a very loving dad who wants only the best for his daughter. He does everything he can to keep her safe. And he doesn't hold grudges, either. When young Trey breaks the rules, he apologizes and Dad readily forgives him with an embrace.
James' mom relates to her son how hard it was for her to let him make his own choices when he was a young man. She encourages him to trust Melanie. James' wife, Michelle, does the same, saying, "You taught her how to think for herself and be strong." And Dad and Daughter eventually come to an understanding of their mutual trust and love. "Go in there with all confidence," James tells Melanie when she's face-to-face with her big entrance interview. "Keep you head up and do your best."
More than just one of life's important milestones, a college education is deemed here to be all but inevitable. Even a dad who can't bear to see his little girl go off on her own and wrangles endlessly over where she's to attend school, never questions that she should go to school.
Only one sarcastically muttered "thank you" sent heavenward by James when his talkative daughter's cell phone battery starts to die.
Melanie shows a scant amount of cleavage. Sly innuendo revolves around a handsome young man at Northwestern who offers to give Melanie a tour. Dad asks, "A tour of what?" Dad also thinks that because a deep-voiced girl answers the phone at a sorority house, Melanie must be sleeping over with girls and boys. Sneaking into the house, James hides under a bed while the girls sleep—and is found out and "exposed" as a Peeping Tom the next morning.
Goofy pratfalls occasionally ratchet up to the level of wrecked police cruisers and taser jolts. James zaps his deputy and, later, receives the same treatment. (Both men shudder and collapse to the ground.) James' vehicle rolls down an embankment. (No one's in it.)
A bride punches her groom in the face seconds before Trey's over-caffeinated pig wreaks havoc at a wedding reception. A number of people are thrown to the floor and hit by falling objects. James takes a number of tumbles and is left hanging from a second-story window. James and Melanie skydive and land on top of a golfer, knocking him into a pond. James and another man "battle" with golf clubs while racing side-by-side in two golf carts. A dad tackles a young man when he learns that he's engaged to his daughter.
A reference is made to a cheetah ripping the head off a gazelle. And shadows of girls dancing make James think they're being attacked and choked. A man shatters a drinking glass in his clenched fist. Another yells, "I'm gonna kill you and your little pig."
Crude or Profane Language
"Oh my god!" is exclaimed a couple of times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
People have glasses of champagne at a wedding reception. After James lectures Melanie about coffee being a drug, their pig eats the beans and starts hyperactively jumping, doing somersaults and generally going berserk.
Other Negative Elements
Melanie and her mom keep Melanie's plans for college a secret from Dad. Melanie lies to him about going to the library with friends when she's actually going to a party. James smuggles the pig into a hotel. And he steals a golf cart. A fat joke is tossed out at a girl's expense. After she confusedly puts a blanket over her head, an elderly woman is left standing on a rooftop.
The House of Mouse crew tried really, really, really hard to make College Road Trip all about that special bond between fathers and their growing up daughters. And I readily applaud the effort to create a clean, family film that they hope will appeal to all the tough-on-the-outside-but-butter-underneath dads and their High School Musical-lovin' little girls.
But do the rubber-faced jester Martin Lawrence and That's So Raven star Raven-Symoné nudge all the right funny bones and pluck all the proper tween notes? Well, um, I think I'll defer the answer to Chicago Sun-Times' Darel Jevens. He dryly notes, "College Road Trip is the best Martin Lawrence/Raven-Symoné/Donny Osmond vehicle ever made." Sans humor, Sue Pierman, writing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reports, "When the cutest and most amusing thing in a movie is a pet pig on caffeine, you know you're in trouble."
In a sentence—with emphasis: Scenery is chewed. So if you have an ingrained aversion to celluloid saccharine, a deep suspicion of scene-stealing pigs or a childhood fear of outlandish facial expressions, you've been forewarned. But while a whiplash-inducing turn into its heartfelt conclusion parking spot feels awkward and cloyingly sentimental, College Road Trip does show parents and kids talking, learning how to love a little better and ultimately finding small patches of common ground. All very good things, right?
"Dads don't know everything," James finally confesses to his beloved daughter. "We just try to do the best that we can." I guess the same can be said about some movies.