Author Megan McDonald's third-grade spitfire Judy Moody makes her leap from the page to the big screen with much of the spit, if not her fire, intact.
Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is a mild-mannered kids' comedy that makes for a pleasant-enough time-killer. All garish colors, small-scale sight gags and kid-friendly one-liners, it lacks the same comic spark that a recent Wimpy Kid's second diary also failed to deliver.
One thing Judy (Jordana Beatty) is not is wimpy. A tornado on a Spider Bike, a riot of noise and impulsiveness topped by an impossible mop of ginger hair, she's the one who organizes a contest so she and her friends don't face another summer of "snoresville." She comes up with challenges — theme park rides to be conquered, scary movies to be endured, surfing skills to be mastered (they live in coastal Virginia), "ride an elephant" — stuff like that. Accomplish a goal, earn "thrill points."
But before Judy can put her thrill points contest into motion, best pal Rocky (Garrett Ryan) is off to circus camp. That's a thrill-point victory all by itself. Amy (Taylar Hender) traipses off to Borneo. And Judy's parents go to California, leaving her free spirit Aunt Opal in charge. What can one do with "Aunt Awful" around?
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Heather Graham is that unknown aunt, a wandering artist with no driving or housekeeping skills. Opal gets Judy and her younger brother, Stink (Parris Mosteller), into the arts. But she's not much help at adding to Judy's thrill points collection.
Stink and his Bigfoot obsession are the movie's comic highlights. Most of the adults in this are drab in the extreme, although Graham gamely tries to give Opal a loose-limbed hippy-trippy streak. Jaleel White scores as the beloved third-grade teacher, a guy given to breaking out the banjo as he gives his class a challenge of his own — track him down and figure out what he'll be doing this summer, based on his clues.
Director John Schultz (Like Mike), working from a script co-written by the novelist McDonald, can't make many of the gags — vomiting on a roller coaster, a fanciful hunt for Bigfoot, assorted pranks and a car chase — deliver big laughs.
But Beatty has a winning way with various Judy-isms — no, Stink, she doesn't want your "ABC Peas, already been chewed." When she moodily doesn't like something, which is often, "It stinks on ice." And the odd throwaway line lands. Amy's new to their club and needs initiation. "Quick, find a toad." (Don't ask.)
Not Bummer Summer doesn't add up to a bummer itself. But with summer kids' entertainment, one ought to be able to say a lot more for it than "it's harmless."