By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY
Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is bound to put you in a bum mood.
Though the lead actress, newcomer Jordana Beatty, gives a spunky performance as third-grader Judy, her character's borderline bratty charm wears thin fast. Mostly it's undercut by the movie's irritatingly antic slapstick style.
Megan McDonald, author of the popular children's book series, co-wrote the script. Based on this exaggerated story, she should stick to novels. On the page her quirky dialogue might be enjoyable, but the movie lines feel forced and unlike anything an actual 8-year-old would utter. Judy speaks in "cutesy-ese," issuing "toad-ally cool, mega-rare, not bummer summer dares."
Judy is determined to have the most thrilling summer ever, but things don't go as planned. Her best friends are whisked off to more exotic venues, like Borneo and circus camp. (Some of that plays like a Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? episode.)
Her parents take off to help an ailing grandparent, so Judy is left in the care of her free-spirited Aunt Opal (Heather Graham). But Judy still has to contend with her Bigfoot-obsessed little brother, Stink (Parris Mosteller).
To fill the bill as a zany, lovable aunt, Graham smiles a lot and opens her eyes wider than usual. Her idea of adventure is endangering her niece and nephew as she drives recklessly over sidewalks and crashes into things, steals a kid's bike and lets her charges roam the city alone at night. If this were anything resembling real life, Aunt Opal's babysitting gaffes might result in child-endangerment charges.
A guerrilla artist, Aunt Opal does at least encourage Judy's imagination. But the message of finding fun in one's own creative impulses gets lost amid the frenzied, calculated whimsy.
Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer
* 1/2 out of four
Stars: Jordana Beatty, Heather Graham, Preston Bailey, Parris Mosteller
Director: John Schultz
Distributor: Relativity Media
Rating: PG for some mild rude humor and language
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Opens Friday nationwide
Judy's adventures include a search for Bigfoot with two strangers in a van. (There's a wise idea.) She goes to a scary movie dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein, but her pal Frank (Preston Bailey) runs off terrified. Another time, they take a vomitous roller-coaster ride.
The film has a candy-colored cartoonish look (augmented by computer-animated dream sequences) and a hyperactive pace perhaps meant for the ADD crowd. But when it comes to excitement, Moody falls flat.
True to her last name, Judy does a lot of flouncing off to her room in a snit, insisting she won't emerge again for the rest of the summer. If only. Sadly, her attention span is short and she pops out for more escapades.
For more entertaining tween girl empowerment movies, stay home and rent A Little Princess (1995), Harriet the Spy (1996), Mulan (1998) or Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008).
Judy Moody should have been a breezy, lighthearted romp, but it's more incessantly frantic than fun.