A crowd of squabbling teenagers are mistakenly launched into orbit in the space shuttle, and have to become a real crew of astronauts in order to make it safely back to Earth.
In the mid-1980s, between the tentpoles of War Games and Back to the Future, there was a weird trend for science nerd teen movies – cf: Real Genius, The Manhattan Project, My Science Project, Weird Science.
Despite its cast of ‘80s icons and Joaquin Phoenix back when he was still billed as Leaf, SpaceCamp is amongst the least memorable of the run. Unfortunately released in 1986 in the wake of the Challenger space shuttle disaster, this pro-NASA teen movie deservedly splashed down and sank without trace. The lead characters, all played by ‘80s teen faces, are a group of misfit kids who enrol in a summer training camp for wannabe astronauts: an all-American overachiever (Lea Thompson), a bimbo who isn’t as stupid as she pretends (Kelly Preston), a cocky nerd who discovers responsibility (Tate Donovan), a stock black kid without a character trait (Larry B. Scott) and a truly annoying pre-teen brat who thinks he’s Luke Skywalker (Phoenix). After foul-ups and comedy business with various training and testing mishaps, the kids are allowed to sit in a real space shuttle just to see what it’s like, and get semi-accidentally blasted into outer space thanks to the intervention of Jinx the cute robot.
In the last act, the junior heroes show all their Right Stuff/Space Cowboys moves in order to return safely to their proud, nervous parents. With the annoying junior characters driving old pro instructors Tom Skerritt and Kate Capshaw to exasperation, this juggles predictable dumb comedy with embarrassing self-help homilies. In addition to its other demerits, it is saddled with surprisingly ropey special effects, with many a matte fringe on view.
Pitched halfway between a comedy and a morality tale, this space race often falls between the two, but is mildly diverting and boasts a strong young cast that will go on to make better things.