I first became aware of Mike Binder when he was a talented young stand-up comedian in the late '70s. I truly started to appreciate the range of his talent when he showed up in the low-budget 1980 American Graffiti rip-off The Hollywood Knights which also featured Tony Danza and Robert Wuhl, and which I enjoyed far more than I should have.
I continued to see Binder doing stand-up on numerous shows throughout the '80s, but then I lost track of him. While sitting in a theatre in 1993 watching what I described at the time as “The Big Chill goes to summer camp,” I rediscovered Mike Binder, now a writer and director. Indian Summer was actually the third film that Mike had written and the second that he directed. I remember enjoying it when it was released, but don’t recall seeing it again, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found that Kino Lorber Studio Classics was releasing it on Blu ray in a Double Feature pack with Crossing The Bridge, the first film to be written and directed by Binder.
He is clearly a nostalgic man as am I, which is why I enjoyed The Hollywood Knights and Indian Summer when I first saw them. Though nostalgic, Crossing the Bridge lacks Binder's light humor. This is a coming-of-age film about three post-high school buddies (Josh Charles, Jason Gedrick, and Stephen Baldwin) who are faced with situations over the course of a night in Canada that result in them taking a serious look at the lives they are leading. Crossing the Bridge is interesting at best, but fails simply because the main characters are not particularly likable.
In Indian Summer, a group of friends return to the summer camp that they visited yearly while growing up, for one last summer before the camp closes down. Filled with likable characters, light comedy, and pleasant performances by Kevin Pollack, Alan Arkin, Bill Paxton, Elizabeth Perkins, Diane Lane, and more, Indian Summer is a nice distraction.
Other than the trailers for the two films, there is really only one piece of bonus material on this new release which came out on February 28. The in-depth interview with Binder is filled with stories and details of what is truly an amazing career. He also makes my job easier as he fundamentally and accurately reviews his own work. Though he was speaking specifically of Indian Summer when he said, “If you went to summer camp as a kid, you loved that movie. If you didn’t, it’s just the dumbest stupidest movie”. Though he’s a bit harsh in his wording, the sentiment can be applied to both films. Mike Binder was able to sell Crossing the Bridge because he kept running into producers and studio executives that could relate to the characters. That is ultimately what allowed Crossing the Bridge, to be made and why they are enjoyable. Ultimately they’re both too short and lack depth in both story and character development.
Recommendation: Mike Binder is a very talented man, but he admits in the interview that he wishes he had spent more time on the script for Indian Summer and it shows. That doesn’t change the fact that if you can relate to these characters, or those in Crossing the Bridge, then you’re in for a reasonably enjoyable trip down memory lane. If you can’t relate to the characters, then you’re crossing the bridge to a summer camp that should be closed.