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MOVIE REVIEW : SENTENCED TO 1 3/4 HOURS IN ‘SPACECAMP’

“SpaceCamp” (citywide) plays like another two-sentence motion picture, the kind whose initial impetus was a snappy one-minute description.

Perhaps it went something like this: “A cross section of American teen-agers go to a summer ‘Space Camp’ and, along with their lady instructor, are inadvertently shot into space. Somehow, they have to pull together and land--before time and oxygen run out.”

Sound good? Bright? Tense? Catchy? Perhaps. But, remember: This is a two-sentence movie. In cases like this, you’re lucky to get three sentences’ worth of dramatic development. Like here.

“SpaceCamp” (apparently the high-tech WordMix was inspired by producer Leonard Goldberg’s previous hit, “WarGames”) takes us to Huntsville, Ala., to the actual Space Camp started by Wernher von Braun in the ‘50s. From there, we follow the desperate adventures of four feisty teen-agers, one gritty tot and their gutsy woman instructor--triggered into the skies by an adorable robot, who loves not wisely but too well.

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Director Harry Winer and his squadron of writers have included in their “Brat Stuff” crew the following mix: one lackadaisical rich boy who’d rather be surfing (Tate Donovan’s Kevin); one hard-nosed country girl determined to be the first female shuttle commander (Lea Thompson’s Kathryn); one spunky preteen, obsessed with “Star Wars” (Leaf Phoenix’s Max); one ditzy blond genius Valley Girl (Kelly Preston’s Tish), and one fast-talking black youth--Larry B. Scott’s Rudy--who dreams of having the first deep-space fast-food franchise.

The quintet--and Kate Capshaw as their instructor--are launched after Max’s robot chum, Jinx, tampers with the NASA computer in an addled attempt to please his buddy. From then on, everything you think will happen does, though the film makers have mercifully left out the stowaway sheep dog, whose Gainesburgers float in midair; Russian cosmonauts singing “Born in the U.S.A.” or any extra passengers--like the spoiled rock star from Bel-Air, the kid orphaned by a space accident, or the fatso trapped in an air lock.

Do we really need this kind of levity about space-shuttle accidents? Do we need another lovable little robot--particularly one named Jinx? Do we need endless “Star Wars” jokes--and an air supply that keeps mysteriously vanishing? Do we need to have Tish the Valley Girl come up with lines like “Whip me; beat me; take away my charge card”?

Perhaps two sentences were artistic labor enough for this team. Why demand any more of them?

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It’s not impossible that an engaging movie could have come from that first high concept--instead of this empty, dull joy ride into special-effects land. (All too often, the kids here don’t seem lost in space, but rather trapped in an exhibit at Washington’s Aerospace Museum.) And “SpaceCamp” has a few points in its favor: John Williams’ music (another of his roaring, crashing “Brahms in Space” scores), the shuttle scenes’ illusion of weightlessness, and some moments in Donovan’s, Thompson’s and Preston’s performances.

But it’s the kind of idea you suspect would have had its highest fulfillment on an old “Mickey Mouse Club” show with Annette Funicello and Tim Considine--and Moochie Corcoran playing with Jinx.

‘SPACECAMP’ A 20th Century Fox release of an ABC Motion Pictures presentation. Executive producer Leonard Goldberg. Producers Patrick Bailey, Walter Coblenz. Director Harry Winer. Script W. W. Wicket, Casey T. Mitchell. Camera William Fraker. Production design Richard MacDonald. Editors John H. Wheeler, Timothy Board. Music John Williams. With Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston, Larry B. Scott, Leaf Phoenix, Tate Donovan, Tom Skerritt.

Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG (parental guidance suggested; some material may not be suitable for children).


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