The Flamingo Kid
Before he became a specialist at manufacturing maudlin spectacle on the wretched order of Beaches, Nothing in Common, and The Other Sister, Garry Marshall was a capable hand at pulling off good-natured light comedy. A veteran gag writer who honed his craft writing for "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Odd Couple" before creating the pop-culture touchstone "Happy Days," Marshall was adept at imbuing pre-fab product with a genuine warmth, which is exactly what makes The Flamingo Kid (1984) such a disarming pleasure. Well, that and the fidgety tough-guy charisma of its star, Matt Dillon, a popular teen idol who had finally established himself as a major movie star after appearing in the S.E. Hinton trilogy of The Outsiders, Tex and Rumble Fish. Here, he plays Jeffrey Willis, a working-class kid from Brooklyn who lucks into a dream summer gig working at the exclusive El Flamingo Beach Club out on Long Island. While highly lucrative, thanks largely to tips, his father (Hector Elizondo) disapproves because it runs contrary to his wishes that Jeffrey take an office job as a springboard to a broader college education a privilege that eluded a hard-working plumber like himself. But the appeal of the club, with its rich members and bikini-clad women, proves too much for Jeffrey, who dives headlong into this affluent new world with an ingratiating enthusiasm that catches the eye of "The King," Phil Brody (Richard Crenna), a slick luxury-car salesman who supplements his considerable income with winnings from a high stakes gin game where his inexplicably unerring sense with cards seems to preclude his ever losing a hand. Though Jeffrey is rough around the edges, Brody takes him under his wing, elevating him to the coveted position of Cabana Boy, while spoon-feeding the lad a bunch of self-satisfied homilies that seem as veritable holy writ to the unsophisticated Brooklynite. But when Jeffrey starts regurgitating this huckster's gospel of practicality at home, and states his intention to skip college in favor of hitting the fast track to becoming a wealthy car salesman, his father becomes apoplectic. For Jeffrey's father, it's not the calling so much as the willful ignorance of the world around him. But Jeffrey's world is the club, which also boasts the alluring presence of Brody's niece, Carla (fetchingly embodied by the future Mrs. Wayne Gretzky, Janet Jones), who finds Jeffrey's unrefined qualities refreshing compared to the annoying antics of the spoiled club kids (including familiar faces like Fisher Stevens, Bronson Pinchot, and the Barbarian Brothers). But as summer draws to a close, everything suddenly seems finite the club will inevitably be shutting down, Carla must return to California, while the whimsical Brody begins to lose interest in his protégé. With an uncertain future beckoning beyond the shores of the El Flamingo, Jeffrey must latch onto something more lasting than the instant gratification of working at the club. Marshall, a co-writer on the film as well, handles The Flamingo Kid with the unpretentious verve of his main character and comes up with a conclusion that manages to be satisfying despite its contrived nature. The film is also bolstered by the two central performances of Dillon and the late Crenna, with the latter turning in what might've been the best work of his career as the smooth-talking Brody. Keep an eye out for brief appearances by John Turturro and Marisa Tomei. MGM presents The Flamingo Kid in a fine anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The disc is otherwise strictly bare-bones, without even a theatrical trailer. Keep-case.