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Film review: Heavyweights

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 21 1995 12:00 a.m. MST

Despite its predictability, one aspect of "Heavyweights," the new Disney summer camp comedy, did take me by surprise — several of the kids here are enormously (no pun intended) appealing.

That helps — but it's hardly enough to bolster a trite script that offers nothing new and very little that is even remotely amusing.

Intended as an ensemble lampoon of society's obsession with weight loss and physical fitness, "Heavyweights" has some ideas that would seem to be ripe for spoofery. But as conceived by co-writer/first-time director Steven Brill (the writer of the "Mighty Ducks" flicks), the film has no aspirations beyond keeping 10-year-olds in their theater seats for 90 minutes, and it is mired in every camp-movie cliche you can i-ma-gine.

The nominal lead character is young Gerry (Aaron Schwartz), who balks at the thought of going to a weight-impaired camp. But when he gets there, he finds that 18-year counselor Pat (Tom McGowan), who is really just a big kid himself, and the group he's lodged with (all of whom are camp veterans) are interested in little more than having a good time. And no one seems to care that the bed posts are stuffed with contraband candy.

But on the first night, disaster strikes. The owners/operators of the camp (the comedy team of Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara) reveal that they've had to declare bankruptcy, and the camp is under new ownership. And wouldn't you know it — the owner is fitness freak Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller, son of Stiller & Meara and director/co-star of last year's "Reality Bites").

Perkis plans to bring down the weight of each kid in the camp, videotaping the results and selling it as an infomercial. He admits he's never been around children before but is confident his own example — and Nazi-style tactics — will bring the desired results.

This does not sit well with the kids or the counselors, especially since Perkis' regimen is enforced by a new counselor, an Arnold Schwarzenegger wannabe named Lars (Tom Hodges).

After all the expected scenes — the rival camp playing practical jokes, the dance at which boys and girls merely stand on opposite sides of the room, the long hike that nearly kills the boys — the kids and counselors decide to take action. And things go from "Meatballs" to "Revenge of the Nerds."

There are some amusing bits of business here, mostly provided by the psychotically energetic Perkis and the two-faced Lars (Stiller and Hodges are obviously having fun).

And some of the other players — including your garden variety cultural mix of kids — and nice work by McGowan and Leah Lail as counselors does help.

But the film is just too flabby, allowing gags to go on too long, thick sentiment to seep in and sometimes the film stops dead for a warm-and-fuzzy message-moment.

A nip-and-tuck job is definitely in order, but filmmaker Brill never sees fit to exercise his right to tighten things up.

"Heavyweights" is rated PG for the comic violence and the usual vulgar gags about flatulence, mooning, etc. There are also a few mild profanities here and there.

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