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Film / Camp Nowhere

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Camp Nowhere is a 1994 comedy about a kid-run summer camp, directed by Jonathan Prince and starring Christopher Lloyd.

Every year, junior high schoolers Mud, Gaby, Zack, and Trish are sent to summer camps their parents choose for them, but they hate: computer camp, fat camp, military camp, and drama camp, respectively. So, they decide this year is going to be different, and they are going to go somewhere they can be kids and have fun: A camp with no parents, no teachers, no camp counselors, and no rules.

Out-of-work actor/drama teacher Dennis Van Welker (Lloyd) owes back payment on his car, and a debt collector is on his trail. Said debt collector is retiring, and wants to do so with a perfect record. Dennis, in turn, has to find some way to hide and/or come up with the cash.

The four junior high kids hire Dennis to pose as the lead counselor for each of their camps, while convincing their parents that they cannot visit. Word about the plan gets out to the whole school, and before long many more kids have signed up. All the kids have fun, doing things they never would have been able to do with adults watching, but it soon becomes difficult to keep the camp a secret...

Notable as the film debut of Jessica Alba, who appears as one of the campers.

This film contains examples of:

  • 555: Polk's phone number, according to the card that he gives Mud, is 555-0093.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Trish and Zack are an item by the end of the film.
  • Analogy Backfire: Played straight, then subverted, during a scene where Dennis is seen listening to some old Winston Churchill recordings.
    Mud: What is that?
    Dennis: Winston Churchill. The Jimi Hendrix of the spoken word.
    Mud: Who's Jimi Hendrix?
    Dennis: The Michael Jordan of the electric guitar.
  • And Starring: The first credit in the closing credits: "With Burgess Meredith"
  • A-Team Montage: When the kids put together their Con.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": The kids who perform for the fake theater camp.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Everyone thanks Mud and Dennis for a great summer, neither one gets arrested, and Polk gets paid off. But it's right after the scheme falls apart completely, all the kids get sent home, and Mud gets grounded for a LONG time.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Dennis. When Feln tells them that the camp used to be a hippie commune, Dennis suddenly remembers having been there before.
  • Butt-Monkey: Zack's dad goes through quite a bit of abuse during the military camp stage of the Parents Day con.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The 5:15 flyby from the nearby Air Force base later comes in handy during the phony Parents' Day.
    • The broken down car that the kids find and Zack fixes becomes Dennis' new car.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Dennis in nearly everything he does. Christopher Lloyd had fun with this role.
  • Childhood Dating Promise: Mud and Gaby make a pact to only date former geeks—or more specifically, date each other—as soon as they're old enough.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Dennis yet again. He got fired from his teaching job for trying to do The Silence of the Lambs as a musical, and that's only the least odd thing he's done.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: Zack's modus operandi.
  • Covers Always Lie:
    • First, there's the page image above, which seems to make the movie out to be the second coming of Animal House. In fact, the movie was a kids' movie and NOTHING like Animal House, but you wouldn't know it by looking at that poster. To wit: there were no supermodels in string bikinis and daisy dukes (there was only one girl in a bikini in the entire movie, and it was far more modest), the kids didn't tie up a guy in a suit and spray him with water, and most of the cast was in middle school.
    • Likewise this poster. The four leads don't tie Dennis to a stake at any point in the movie.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Walter, who is set up as Mud's best friend. It's actually Zack who becomes one of the four protagonists; Walter spends the majority of the film as a minor supporting character.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Trish.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Once the camp is busted, Dennis tries to take all the blame. He begins his "confession" by claiming that his plan was to find kids with money, get them away from their parents, win their confidence with junk food... Although Dennis takes this in a totally different direction, this is the way pedophiles and sex traffickers operate. This implication is underscored by the looks of dawning horror on the parents' faces as they are listening to Dennis — no doubt, they are expecting something far worse than indoctrination into some wacky cult.
  • Duck Season, Rabbit Season: With the omelets.
    Gaby: Ashley, mushroom. Amber, onion. Lenny, plain.
    Lenny: Cheese.
    Gaby: You said plain.
    Lenny: Cheese.
    Gaby: Plain.
    Lenny: Cheese.
    Gaby: Plain.
    Lenny: Cheese.
    Gaby: Plain.
    Lenny: Cheese.
    Gaby: Plain.
    Lenny: Cheese.
    Gaby: Cheese.
    Lenny: Plain.
    Gaby: Okay, fine, you win. Plain.
    [He looks confused and wanders off]
    Gaby: Who says you can't learn anything from cartoons?
  • Dumb Blonde: Trish is this trope encapsulated. She's an actress, spends her summer money on clothes at the mall, says that the mistake on Zack's fake ID means it's actually a decade earlier, and tops off with this:
    after Mud, Gaby, and Zack say they are "smart enough to act stupid"
    Trish: Yeah, and I'm stupid too!
  • Education Mama: Mud's dad is a rare male version. He's constantly opining that Mud "has potential," and keeps pushing Mud to grow up early. Mud complains that his dad treats him like he's unemployed. Mud is 12.
  • "Eureka!" Moment:
    Zack: I say, just give me the money, I'll buy a Harley, and be outta your way the whole summer.
    Mud: That kind of money, we could just rent our own camp.
    Zack: Whoa...whoa! What'd you say?
  • Exact Words: After Dennis recognizes the camp as the hippie commune where it was all "sex, drugs, and debauchery."
    Gaby: You did that stuff here?
    Dennis: Not here... (takes a small step to his left and smirks)
  • Expy: Dennis' fat camp counselor is pretty blatantly based off Richard Simmons.
  • Fake–Real Turn: The kids set up a fake summer camp in order to get away from the adults, but then when parents insist on coming to the camp halfway through the summer, they have to devise a way to make the camp seem real. And that goes for all the different legit camps.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: There are more than a few plots going on in this movie.
    • There's the main plot about the camp and keeping up the facade.
    • There are underlying plots about the four leads and their various Character Developments:
      • Mud learns about responsibility and learns how to speak up for himself. Plus, Gaby convinces him that it's okay to be dorky, since it makes Mud his own person. Because of all this, by the end of the movie, Mud's father is a bit more willing to let his son be a kid for a while.
      • Gaby decides that she's sick of eating junk food.
      • Zack decides to drop his act pretending to be a jerk, tries to be less selfish, and not drop out of school. He and Trish become an item.
      • Concurrently, Trish becomes a Defrosting Ice Queen.
    • There's the plot about Dennis and his financial woes with Polk, though it's punctuated by Dennis' romance with Celeste.
    • Then there are the very minor subplots about Walter wanting to skinny dip with Betty, Zack rebuilding an old car, and Hendricks investigating the goings-on at and around the camp.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: You could argue that Gaby is Sanguine, Trish is Choleric, Zack is Melancholic, and Mud is Phlegmatic.
  • Free-Range Children: Played with. Mud and his friends start out playing the trope straight during their adventures recruiting Dennis and setting up the camp. However, some ramifications of being a free-range child are felt later on, and the characters realize that they need adults in their lives more often than they previously thought. Still, they're pretty resourceful right up until the ploy falls apart.
  • Friendly Enemy: Zack to Mud. They really aren't enemies at all, but Zack pretends to bully him due to having a a reputation to uphold.
  • Gilligan Cut: When Mud gives the others some of the spending money.
    Mud: Be careful how you spend it, all right? Because it's gotta last for the whole summer. Besides, we don't want to draw attention to ourselves, all right?
    Arnold: We're not gonna do anything stupid. I mean, we're not complete morons.
    [cut to delivery trucks unloading, among other things, Super Soakers and a big-screen TV]
    • Just after Mud assures Dennis that everything at the camp is going great, it cuts to the kids being cooped up indoors during a rainy day.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: Walter in The Stinger, although Betty was trying to get him off her back about the whole skinny dipping thing.
    Betty: You really do have the guts. Just not an extra bathing suit.
  • Gratuitous French: Trish's use of the word "très" (meaning "very") in nearly every other sentence. For instance, she says things like "Très dull," or "Très bizarre." Might be justified because of her upbringing.
  • Growing Up Sucks: The movie meanders about with this. Mud learns about responsibility and whatnot, and he begins to look forward to growing up and dating Gaby, but at the same time he refuses to eat lima beans (unless he gets paid for it) and still acts like growing up is the worst thing in the world. He finally asserts himself and tells his father that it's okay to be a kid, which he agrees to.
  • Grounded Forever: "By the way, you're grounded until you're thirty." (Mud is 12.)
  • Heroic BSoD: Mud has one when he realizes he's becoming a killjoy like his parents. Gaby snaps him out of it by telling him that he's better than he thinks he is.
  • Hippie Van: One of the old hippie commune's buses is still at the camp, and Mud turns it into his living space.
  • Hollywood Law: It doesn't matter if Mud and his friends take responsibility for the camp. Dennis went along with the kids' plan and took the parents' money under false pretenses. Dennis could possibly go to jail for fraud.
    • Although, it is commented that no one is pressing any charges. Therefore, even In-Universe, Dennis could have gone to prison regardless of what Mud and his friends said; he just got lucky.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Most of the parents visiting the fat camp are very overweight themselves.
  • I Am Spartacus: When the scheme is blown, all the other kids stand up and take responsibility alongside Mud.
  • Iconic Outfit: A small example, but Mud's dad is only seem in a long sleeve button down shirt with a goofy sweater over it. In California. In June. That's dedication.
  • If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good for You: Invoked by Gaby and Dennis when they trick her mother into sending her to the (hypothetical) fitness camp. They sample some camp cuisine—Dennis and Gaby eat real chocolate cake, and Gaby's mom is given something that convinces her the camp must be doing something right with its food.
    Dennis: Yours is Betty Crocker. Hers is raw liver paste.
  • Inspector Javert:
    • T.R. Polk, who is trying to find and bust Dennis on failing to pay off an AMC Gremlin.
    • Lt. Hendricks is also a bit of this.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Mud and Dennis form a close one throughout the movie.
  • Junior High Hustler: Mud. He comes up with a phony summer camp, for pity's sake!
  • Lady Not-Appearing-in-This-Game: The aforementioned supermodels as seen in the above poster.
  • Lost Aesop: The film isn't very clear with its final message. Be Yourself? Be sure to pay your debts? It's okay to be a kid? It's okay to grow up? Don't start a phony summer camp? It could be anything, really.
    Dennis: Well Mud, I hope you've learned something from all this.
    Mud: Yeah, I probably did.
    Dennis: Good. You figure it out, you'll let me know, won't you?
  • Madness Mantra: "Money, Mud. Money, Mud. Money, Mud."
  • Male Gaze: Zack to Trish as she walks up to him sitting on the floor: "You know if you were wearing a skirt right now, I'd be in heaven."
    • Trish is also the only teen girl to wear a bikini for some reason.
    • And Mud pretty blatantly checks out her butt when they are leaving camp. And then does it again even after Gaby hits him for it.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Zack's bully friends call Mud "Pud." We don't know why.
  • Master of Disguise: This is one of Dennis' talents. He uses it to escape the law, and it's how he's able to pretend to be a representative from any type of summer camp. Justified, since he's a former drama teacher.
    • The kids manage to utilize this skill when the parents decide to visit the camp, changing the outlay for military, drama, fat and computer camps.
  • Military School: It's where Zack usually gets sent, since he's a delinquent and all.
  • Misery Builds Character: One reason why everyone's parents want to send them to camp, even though its clearly averted.
  • Mundane Utility: In one scene where the kids sit down to lunch, a chainsaw is used to cut apart a very long sub sandwich.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Mud eventually tells some kids to knock off the horseplay, lest they get hurt, then realizes he's becoming his parents.
  • Never Recycle a Building: The kids take an old hippie commune cabin and turn it into their base of operations.
  • The '90s: Flannel, Beverly Hills, 90210, The Cranberries, Beavis and Butt-Head...welcome to 1994, folks.
  • Noisy Shut-Up: Shortly after the kids have all settled in at the camp, Zack does this to get everyone's attention so that Mud can go over some last-minute details.
  • Only Sane Man: Celeste is no doubt the sanest and competent one of the adult cast. Mud and Gaby are this as far as the kids are concerned. They even lampshade it.
  • Only in It for the Money: Dennis only agrees to help out during the rainy day when Mud offers him a bribe of $200. Dennis later bribes Mud $1 for every lima bean he eats at the dinner with Celeste.
    • However, subverted earlier in the film, Dennis pays Mud's medical expenses out of his own pocket and refuses reimbursement.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Morris "Mud" Himmel.
  • Parental Obliviousness: The kids gamble everything on this trope.
  • Parental Substitute: Dennis for Mud. Becomes useful with the amount of time they spend pretending to be father and son in their various ruses.
  • Porn Stash: Arnold packs a suitcase full of Playpen magazines.
  • Pun: Barely a minute into the movie and we get Micro-Chippewa Camp, a summer camp for computer geeks.
  • Rain, Rain, Go Away: A rainy day keeps the kids indoors. When they start talking about abandoning the camp, going home, and watching Baywatch on cable, Mud and Dennis organize some rainy day Olympic games to keep them occupied.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Hendricks is just a polite state trooper doing his job. He does get justifiably upset when he loses track of the yellow Gremlin during a pursuit, and again later on when the ruse is uncovered.
  • Refuge in Audacity: When Zack tries to buy beer.
    Clerk: ID? You gotta be 19 to buy this stuff.
    Zack: No problemo. [hands over ID]
    Clerk: You were born in 1963?
    Zack: Yeah.
    Clerk: So that would make you?
    Zack: 21.
    Clerk: No. This is 1994. That would make you 31.
    Trish: Wrong! If he was born in 1963, and he's 21, then it's 1984! Uh!
  • Right on the Tick: Pineview Air Force Base's daily 5:15 flyby. Feln mentions that it's something that's missed when it doesn't happen, and it eventually becomes plot-crucial.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Subverted when the camp gets busted. Dennis tells Mud that he is pulling this because, as an adult, he would face even worse consequences than anything that could happen to the kids. Instead, Dennis attempts to take the blame by claiming that the entire camp was a scam meant to indoctrinate the kids into a wacky cult.
  • Setting Update: Not so much this movie, but the 2006 movie Accepted was pretty much Camp Nowhere set in college. Explained in this article.
  • Secret-Keeper: Celeste is pushed into this role when she drives by the camp and sees Mud (whom Dennis had told her was his son) partying with the other kids. She makes it quite clear that she's not happy about it.
  • Shoulders-Up Nudity: Invoked by Betty in The Stinger. Betty, seemingly naked, swims up to Walter and goads him into stripping as well, only to reveal she was wearing a strapless suit as she leaves with his.
  • Skinny Dipping: Walter wants to do it with Betty throughout the movie. Ultimately subverted in The Stinger, as seen under Shoulders-Up Nudity above.
  • Spanner in the Works:
    • Walter does some research and finds out that Mud and the others are planning to go to a non-existent camp. Walter tells Betty. Betty tells everyone else.
    • Celeste starts dating Dennis and later finds out about the camp. However, she doesn't tell anyone.
    • At the end of the movie, Polk shows up at precisely the wrong moment at the very end of The Con, and he and Mud's dad stumble into the ruse right as the kids are toasting their victory. Had Polk shown up any later, the ruse could have been kept up.
  • Stage Mom: Trish's mom.
  • Summer Campy
  • Swirlie: Invoked and subverted in an early scene, where Zack only pretends to do this to Mud.
  • Team Mom / Team Dad: Gaby and Mud, respectively. They even mention it during the omelet scene.
  • Teenage Wasteland: The titular camp is a Lighter and Softer version with mostly preteens. Dennis is the only adult around, and even then...
  • Third Act Stupidity: After having spent the entire movie managing to keep from getting busted, and after spending most of Parents' Day fooling the parents, the kids start celebrating their victory before the last group of parents has left. Had the kids paid ANY attention to their security monitors, they would have noticed Polk at the front gate. Things obviously get worse when Polk runs into Mud's dad.
  • Title Drop: A non-verbal example. One of the kids hoists a flag with the camp's name on it.
  • Token Romance: Dennis/Celeste, Zack/Trish, and Mud/Gaby.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Hey midget! Find my Waldo!" "WHAT Waldo?"
  • Voiceover Letter: Mud's letter home to his parents is mostly this, with some parts being read by his father.