Crap figures prominently throughout Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer. It’s also one way of describing this adaptation of the Megan McDonald book series whose protagonist, as played by Jordana Beatty, seems destined for a lifetime of servitude to the pipe or, at the very least, the whims of a roomful of cats. While her brother Stink (Paris Mosteller) hunts for Bigfoot using peanut butter and the creature’s own doo-doo, the girl locks herself inside her eyesore of a bedroom after two of her besties hightail it out of town for the summer, one to circus camp, the other to Borneo, thus squashing Judy’s obsessive-compulsive desire to micromanage school’s three-month timeout with a chart of itemized “dares.” Dad’s eccentric sister, Opal (Heather Graham), who appears to share a significant portion of the girl’s bug-eyed genome, lures Judy out of her kaleidoscope of doom and convinces her to live it up outside, but the tween’s fun is quickly thwarted at every turn—by a face full of blue upchuck, a shit sandwich, a galling imitation of a zombie film that would have been deemed outdated even in the ‘50s, and Steve Urkel.
Kids today. But wait, does anyone, other than M.I.A. perhaps, rely so heavily and stridently as Judy does on an acronym-heavy parlance? (Half of the film’s running time, via smug asides and glittery on-screen text, seems devoted to translating for us, the great unwashed, the ABC’s of Judy’s secret language, like “ABC’s”—which is to say, the “already been chewed” sludge of food that Stink tosses around in his mouth while talking to his older sis.) This third-grade, possibly Ritalin-added ghoul, whose ingenuity as an interior designer implies she owns Milton Bradley’s Mouse Trap (unlikely) or highly regards Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (possibly), is not preferable to your average Beiber fan, whose sycophantic behavior at least feels recognizably human.
Which is to say, Judy Moody is as unbelievable as the Bigfoot her brother hunts, kitsch sprung from the lame imagination of adults who probably wish their tweeners lived their lives like Judy Blume characters. To be fair, director John Schultz seems to acknowledge the cartoon-ness of Judy’s existence, shooting the color-suffocated interiors and the people who inhabit them with a quaintly poppy panache that suggests he may be among the half dozen who highly regard Bo Welch’s The Cat in the Hat, but outdoors, where Judy takes on her brother’s quest to find Bigfoot after suffering too many misadventures of her own creation, his aesthetic devolves into blandly colorless mush, which is at least in keeping with the queasily flavorless plot, whose only surprise may be that Cuba Gooding Jr. doesn’t figure into it.
No one wants to be lectured to at the movies, but what does Judy learn exactly by the end of her Not Bummer Summer? To be a little less OCD, sure, and to embrace the wonders of being cut in half by the circus-loving Rocky (Garrett Ryan), who seems poised to penetrate her in other ways by the time they reach high school, if not before, but why, after chasing a scared-shitless Frank (Preston Bailey) out of a movie theater playing a zombie flick, doesn’t she put up more of a fight when the zombie usher doesn’t let her back into the theater where her ticket is along with her bag? For all her frustrations about keeping up with the fun her best friends are having elsewhere, the “thrilladelic” girl’s resignation makes no sense; not that it matters, because the audience gives up on her long before she’s given up on herself.