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‘Indian Summer’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 24, 1993

 


Director:
Mike Binder
Cast:
Alan Arkin;
Matt Craven;
Diane Lane;
Bill Paxton;
Elizabeth Perkins;
Kevin Pollak;
Sam Raimi;
Vincent Spano;
Julie Warner;
Kimberly Williams
PG-13
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent


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At the beginning of "Indian Summer," Mike Binder's golden-hued collapse into twentysomething nostalgia, Alan Arkin leads a band of baffled but wide-eyed youngsters to the edge of a clearing in Canada's verdant North Woods, where they come face to face with one of nature's elite, a fully grown, majestically antlered moose.

The shot of this regal creature is designed to tell us that a peak moment has taken place. For the rest of their lives, wherever they may travel or whatever hardships they may endure, this will be their touchstone. And as if to lock the memory in place, Arkin casually states with a quick snap of the head, "Nothing beats a good moose."

In fact, he's right. Nothing else in "Indian Summer" comes close to matching this ravishing opening flashback. Arkin and the moose are the best things about the movie.

No film with Alan Arkin can be wholly bad. Here Arkin (wearing a sorry-looking rug and black horn rims) plays Lou, owner, chief counselor and resident guru at a Canadian summer resort for kids called Camp Tamakwa. Lou is a straight-shooting sort of guy, brimming with life lessons.

But now that today's kids seem to have Walkmans attached surgically to their heads, Lou's passion for the simple virtues of decency, discipline and good sportsmanship has fallen out of favor. He can't connect with the kids anymore and so he's packing it in.

Before he shuts down, though, he invites that group of kids who had earlier watched the moose with him -- the kids from what he calls the camp's golden age -- to share his last days there. And though they've grown up and scattered to the winds, they come, with their own memories, expectations and very adult problems.

"Indian Summer" would like to be to the '90s what "The Big Chill" was to the '80s. But something is missing, namely a superior cast, a more engaging group of characters, a far smarter, more focused script, and Lawrence Kasdan's expertly timed direction. This is a wan knockoff.

As the characters unpack their things in the same cabins they occupied as kids, they also lay out their troubles. There's Beth (Diane Lane), a level-headed young woman dealing with her doctor husband's accidental death; and there's Jennifer (Elizabeth Perkins), a prickly single woman who has fantasies of rekindling her childhood relationship with Matthew (Vincent Spano), who is vaguely unhappy in his marriage to Kelly (Julie Warner). Rounding out the group is Jamie (Matt Craven), an ardent bachelor with a hankering for pert young beauties like Gwen (Kimberly Williams).

And then there's Jack (Bill Paxton), the mystery man of the group. As a boy, he had been kicked out of camp; why, no one knows. Everyone is shocked when he shows up.

Lou, of course, plays a major role in helping his grown-up campers reorder their priorities. But the simplistic manner in which Lou solves his campers' problems is the movie's gravest shortcoming. The film is just too pat, too predictable and too generic. You feel as if you've been given a look into the skinny souls of characters in a Gap commercial.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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