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‘Summer Camp’: S’more servings of Diane Keaton and friends

2 weeks ago 153

Diane Keaton can act — her best actress Oscar is proof — but lately, she’s favored movie roles that capitalize on how much people just want to lounge around with her or, at least, the vest-wearing, space-cadet charmer we’ve imagined her to be since “Annie Hall.”

Let her male contemporaries like Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington and Sylvester Stallone exhaust themselves battling goon squads to rescue their granddaughter’s neighbor’s cat. Keaton has enjoyed a big-screen resurgence just from hangout movies like the Book Club franchise and now Castille Landon’s “Summer Camp,” a film as pleasant and fleeting as a cheap ice pop, which simply watches Keaton dither about whether to go river rafting.

Keaton plays Nora, a workaholic scientist dragged on a girls’ trip to her 50-year camp reunion with her childhood bunk mates, big-mouthed Ginny (Kathy Bates in a ferocious red bob) and Mary (Alfre Woodard), an unhappily married nurse. Once, Nora, Ginny and Mary (played in their youth by Taylor Madeline Hand, Kensington Tallman and Audrianna Lico) were the losers exiled to the Sassafras cabin. Now, Ginny is a celebrity self-help guru with serious clout and the former popular girls are headed up by a beautifully maintained Pilates addict named Jane (Beverly D’Angelo, funny and game) who happens to be Ginny’s biggest fan.

Whether you believe that summer camp reunions are even real in the first place, Landon makes it clear she’s trafficking in fantasy as soon as wealthy Ginny revamps their cobwebby bunk into a luxury cabin complete with a wine fridge, customized riding boots and vibrators for souvenirs. The story is as predictable as a campfire song. Each of the friends has one core problem to fix, but the film is really about the meandering path to enlightenment, which takes frequent detours for food fights, pillow fights and pottery classes with a lot of awkwardly erotic squelching.

Meanwhile, the seniors tussle with young and wacky camp counselors (Betsy Sodaro and Josh Peck, both great) who struggle to assert their authority. The soundtrack plays as many on-the-nose needle drops as it can afford. (Yes, we hear Bryan Adams’s “Summer of ’69.”)

The throwback vibe invites the cast to straddle two ages simultaneously. The women claim to be old and overworked and exhausted, but once back in a mess hall — even a mess hall where a bartender serves martinis — they revert to teenagers giggling over who’s going to sneak out for a midnight kiss.

Keaton’s character is as Keaton-esque as ever. It’s a narrative rule that her characters suddenly realize that — gasp — they look incredible in a wide belt. The rest of the cast is set loose to do whatever they want with their parts, which results in a colorful mess akin to the scrawl on a shared stall, which is where a lot of the jokes come from, too, including a tampon gag so startling that it’s relegated to the end credits.

Bates has a blast playing a cartoonish attention hog constantly filing away quips for her TikTok followers, while the comic Eugene Levy, taking off his trademark glasses to play the girls’ crush Stevie D, struts around with the confidence of a heartthrob. “That name sounded a lot more edgy when we were 14,” Nora jokes.

Yet Woodard often seems to be in a movie of her own. She gives her smothered wife character such gravitas that you could plop her whole performance into a serious drama. In her first scene, Mary is pestered over the phone by her husband (Tom Wright), a mostly off-screen presence, who wants help finding a snack while she’s giving a patient chest compressions at the hospital. It’s a ridiculous moment delivered with unusual conviction.

Woodard’s scenes shouldn’t mesh with the slapstick, but we find ourselves caught up in rooting for Mary to leave the louse and fall for an impossibly perfect doctor (Dennis Haysbert) who jetted to the reunion from his charity clinic in Myanmar. What happens next is frothy, forgettable wish fulfillment — but, hey, that’s why anyone’s watching in the first place.

PG-13. At area theaters. Contains sexual material, strong language and some underage smoking. 96 minutes.

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