Break Out the S'Mores, Summer Camp Is Back

From left: Michael Showalter, Christopher Meloni and A.D. Miles star in "Wet Hot American Summer," a spoof of movies like "Meatballs."
From left: Michael Showalter, Christopher Meloni and A.D. Miles star in "Wet Hot American Summer," a spoof of movies like "Meatballs." (By Amy Rice -- Usa Films)
By Jen Chaney Staff Writer
Friday, July 25, 2008

Feeling nostalgic for those childhood days at summer camp, so much so that you almost -- almost -- wish you could bunk up at the same sleep-away where the kids are staying?

Try watching some campy DVDs instead. No, I don't mean that kind of campy -- that was covered a few weeks ago with the "Xanadu" review. I'm talking movies where kids and counselors come together for several weeks of swimming, socializing and listening to Bill Murray tell creepy ghost stories.

With that in mind, here are five of the best (read: no "Ernest Goes to Camp") options, all guaranteed to satisfy that craving for color wars, arts and crafts, and rustic cabins in the woods.

"Meatballs" (PG). As implied above, "Meatballs" is the quintessential summer camp movie. Admittedly, it has its flaws. But it also features Bill Murray in his motion picture debut, and that alone makes it worth watching. (Honestly, his "It just doesn't matter" monologue remains a work of unparalleled comedic genius.) Try to snag a copy of the special edition DVD that was released last year, which contains an entertaining making-of featurette in which actor Chris Makepeace (a.k.a. Wudy the Wabbit) admits he had no idea Murray would be in the film until cameras rolled on their first scene together.

"Wet Hot American Summer" (R). Michael Showalter and David Wain, veterans of MTV's cult-favorite series "The State," put their heads together to write this relentlessly silly spoof of movies like, well, "Meatballs." The cast boasts a cavalry of comedy vets, including Janeane Garofalo, Paul Rudd, Michael Ian Black, Amy Poehler and "30 Rock's" Judah Friedlander, all in ultra-ridiculous mode. Oh, and here's a tip for viewers over the age of 21: "Wet Hot" is even funnier after drinking a couple of cups of spiked bug juice.

"Friday the 13th" (R). With Paramount Pictures preparing a remake of this 1980 horror classic, now is as good a time as any to catch up with the murder victims (including a young Kevin Bacon) at Camp Crystal Lake. Afterward, it's completely understandable to give your daughter at Camp Rimrock a call. You know, just to make sure she's safe.

"Jesus Camp" (PG-13). Seeking a more serious summer camp film? This Academy Award-nominated documentary about a North Dakota haven for young evangelical Christians is compelling and guaranteed to spark debate. Some of the extras on the DVD, released last year, are worth checking out, including a few of the deleted scenes and the commentary by filmmakers Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing.

The "Kamp Krusty" episode of "The Simpsons." I had planned to recommend "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown," but sadly, that Peanuts gem is not available on DVD. So if you want something the entire family can enjoy, try "Kamp Krusty," an episode that forces Bart and Lisa to have a decidedly Dickensian experience at summer camp. Find it on the fourth-season DVD box set, which happens to boast some of the funniest, finest "Simpsons" episodes in the show's history. Watching them all, marathon style, might be the perfect way to pass a rainy July or August day.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company