The defining characteristic of Cuba Gooding Jr's post-Oscar career has been manic energy for high-concept idiocy unworthy of his boyish enthusiasm. For someone whose filmography is littered with projects like Chill Factor, The Fighting Temptations, and Snow Dogs, all exuberance is inherently irrational. In movies like Boat Trip, Gooding is as excitable and eager to please as a golden-retriever puppy, and his can-do spirit makes it easy to root for him, no matter how misconceived the vehicle. But even he seems utterly defeated by the lead role in Daddy Day Camp, a sequel to Daddy Day Care that removes everything that made the original just barely tolerable: namely, game performances from seasoned comic pros Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin, Steve Zahn, and Jonathan Katz. Who can blame Gooding for his lack of apparent enthusiasm? Is there anything more dispiriting than scooping up the sloppy seconds of a man who said "yes" to Norbit and The Adventures Of Pluto Nash?
Gooding is introduced getting his crotch soaked with water. It's all downhill from there. He joylessly takes over Murphy's role as a loving husband and father who leaves the rat race behind to run a successful child-care business. Though Gooding is excited to have his son attend his old summer camp, his spirits are deflated when he sees that the camp has fallen into disrepair. With the help of sidekick Paul Rae, Gooding buys the camp and tries to restore it to new life, but when rival camp owner/sneering bad guy Lochlyn Munro promises to destroy his hapless underdog of an institution, Gooding turns to his semi-estranged military dad (Richard Gant) to turn his sinking ship around.
Since Day Camp establishes Gooding and Rae's substantial success in the child-care field early on, having them take care of children outdoors is less a fish-out-of-water premise than a fish-in-slightly-different-water conceit. And since Gant is never depicted as anything other than a nice older man happy to help his son out, Gooding's anger toward him seems unjustified, and their reconciliation hollow. All that's left is a generic time-waster powered by a lazy, cynical combination of scatological kiddie humor and maudlin sentiment. Hopefully, any subsequent sequels will get the quiet direct-to-DVD burial this movie inexplicably avoided.