Much as he recycled the coming-of-age genre for his Disney directorial debut, CROSSING THE BRIDGE, writer-director Mike Binder resurrects the thirtysomething, midlife-crisis drama (a la RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN and THE BIG CHILL) for this intermittently amusing campground go-around.
"Unca" Lou (Alan Arkin) decides to summon 30 of his favorite camper alumni to a special week in the Ontario woods at Camp Tamakwa (a real place attended by Binder as well as buddy and EVIL DEAD director Sam Raimi, who co-stars as Lou's dimwitted assistant). Eight actually show up, including Jack
(Bill Paxton), whom Lou had exiled for stealing a cherished trophy, accompanied by Gwen (Kimberly Williams, who made her film debut in Disney's Steve Martin remake of FATHER OF THE BRIDE), the sexy child-bride-to-be of swinging bachelor Jamie (Matt Craven). During her week at camp, Gwen learns
that Jamie ranks her as little more than an ornament and handy sex toy and strenuously objects to her plans to build a family with him.
The other campers are similarly bruised and battered by life and have accepted Unca Lou's invitation as a way to recapture their lost dreams. Beth (Diane Lane) has been unable to recover from the death of her doctor-husband in a car accident. Sharp-tongued, chain-smoking Jennifer (Elizabeth
Perkins) is beginning to fear old maid-hood and flirts with married Matthew (Vincent Spano), whose marriage to Kelly (Julie Warner) is suffering from a breakdown in conjugal communication. Matthew is also falling out with his business partner Brad (Kevin Pollak) over the shoe company they started
and which Matthew now wants to leave.
Climaxing a week of spats, reconciliations, and attempted assignations, Lou announces he is closing the camp for good. Matthew considers taking it over but finally declines. Jack, while beginning a tentative romance with Beth, digs up the trophy, which he had buried on the camp grounds, and
returns it. It is Lou, however, who apologizes to Jack, whose scorn for Lou stemmed from Lou's long-ago rejection of a black applicant to a counselor position. Jack and Beth tell Lou they would like to take over the camp, but neither has the money to buy it. Lou gives them the camp free of charge.
More immediate and less misty-eyed than his debut effort, Binder's second outing suffers more from rookie mistakes than a shortage of talent. Juggling the plots and subplots of nearly a dozen major characters isn't easy even for a veteran director. To his credit, Binder keeps the characters
sharply delineated and their dilemmas compelling. But the unfortunate side-effect is to raise expectations that go unfulfilled.
The frequent flashbacks baffle as much as they illuminate. We're asked to believe that Beth has always been something of an ugly-duckling outcast, straining credibility with Lane cast in the role as an adult. Yet, Lane continues to improve as an actress. Following up a solid performance in MY
NEW GUN earlier in 1993, she gives Beth both poignancy and vulnerability. It's never made clear why Jennifer's wit and sophistication have kept men away from her beyond the (largely untrue) movie convention that men generally shun such women. Brad and Matthew also suffer from
underdevelopment--what's the background to their business and how did it become so successful? It's easy to forget Kelly is even in the film before her blowup at Matthew, despite Warner's fine performance when she is onscreen. Ironically, even Lou seems to be pushed to the film's fringes for long
periods of time.
Meanwhile, inordinate time is spent on such routine scenes as a midnight marijuana munchies raid on the camp kitchen and tedious prank-playing. Throughout, Binder doesn't seem wholly committed either to character exploration or broad comedy; the film veers back and forth between the two. Despite
its weaknesses, however, SUMMER is another promising film for Binder, who manages a fair enough share of privileged moments to make it worthwhile, if not outstanding. He's put together a terrific cast and has directed them well, down to Raimi, who puts his longtime devotion to The Three Stooges to
good work by stealing some of the film's best laughs. (Substance abuse, profanity, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Much as he recycled the coming-of-age genre for his Disney directorial debut, CROSSING THE BRIDGE, writer-director Mike Binder resurrects the thirtysomething, midlife-crisis drama (a la RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN and THE BIG CHILL) for this intermittentl… (more)