Immersed in Lake Nostalgia with unhappy campers

MOVIE REVIEW

April 24, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Indian Summer" is about a bunch of thirtysomethings who miss . . . the '70s? What, they miss Nixon? They miss platform shoes? They miss disco? They miss . . . Travolta?

No, what they miss is their childhood, or rather their childhood's most golden weeks, when they were campers at a legendary lakeside summer camp in Ontario, where, for a brief and magic period, they were completely happy. Their return for a nostalgic immersion bath in the glory of lost times is the prime subject of a movie that uses more amber lens filters than a beer commercial. It may have even been filmed through a glass of beer, amberly.

Hello mutha, hello fatha, things are fine at Camp Psychodrama. Each of them, of course, has been sufficiently jaded by the vicissitudes of adult life to feel that they've lost some precious something, and the subtext of the film is their yearning for emotional completion. It takes each through a mini-12-step program on the way to recovery.

Ugh. Blech. Feelings. Emotions. I hate 'em all. But the truth is that "Indian Summer" is so inoffensive and so often bright in its dialogue that its cheaper ploys -- the miracle cures by movie's end, the obnoxious instantaneous bonding, the stereotypical characters -- don't seem to destroy that amber bubble of good feeling.

The characters, who are the film's strongest element, have one thing in common: All are good actors. Kevin Pollack is Brad, the businessman, but he's really Kevin Pollack, the stand-up comedian and comic actor, riding that jagged edge

of Jewish comic angst almost to the limit. His anxiety and continuous barbs keep the movie honest and the saccharine level from rotting your molars.

Brad is under the impression that the camp has somehow gotten "smaller." It's a line he pushes over and over again, squeezing fresh comic angles out of it for a good two hours.

Then there's Elizabeth Perkins. For some reason this actress can't get out of her "About Last Night" niche, where she played a debauched, leathery single. In this one she plays a warm, sensitive, caring, debauched, leathery single. I think her career has been cursed ever since she criticized Baltimore on Johnny Carson. But she's always funny, sucking tobacco smoke and spitting out cynical one-liners like olive pits, without apology.

Diane Lane has a nice turn as a widow trying to learn to love again. And the always interesting Bill Paxton is somewhat amusing as a laid-back ne'er-do-well, though I wish Mike Binder's script had given him a bit more to do.

The most explosive couple is played by Matt Craven (of "K2") and Kimberly Williams (of "Father of the Bride.") She's his trophy woman --at 21 -- but she no longer wants to be a trophy. This relationship touches some real issues and is the only subplot in the film in which real life threatens to break into the movie.

Vincent Spano and Julie Warner are the least compelling, as a decade-long married couple whose union has turned a bit banal with age.

The screenplay hustles these people through minor crises under the stewardship of old Camp Counselor Alan Arkin, a few enchanting moments and some comic relief, without ever acquiring any force or momentum. At nearly two hours long, it occasionally feels like an entire August at a camp in the Louisiana Bayou, not crisp Ontario, where the skeeters are bigger than bats and all the counselors are former Marines.

But the movie is more than its parts; it's primarily its performances, which are all engaging, and its dialogue, which is usually snippy. It all works out in the end, just as it never does in real life.

"Indian Summer"

Starring Kevin Pollack and Bill Paxton.

Directed by Mike Binder.

Released by Touchstone.

Rated PG-13.

** 1/2

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