Who do you trust with your future: a car dealer or a plumber?
It’s easy to recognize Garry Marshall’s modus operandi: direct safe, predictable, nice-guy movies. He makes it even easier on himself by setting this story in the idyllic pre-Vietnam War days of the early 1960s. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough plot to go around to sustain a compelling story for the entire running time.
Garry Marshall’s entertainment career goes back a long way. He was a comedy writer and actor, then a television producer (with The Odd Couple and Happy Days, plus all its spin-offs, to his credit). In 1982, he made the move to feature film directing with Young Doctors In Love. He followed it up with The Flamingo Kid in 1984.
The Flamingo Kid is pretty much just a by the numbers coming of age movie — The Karate Kid, only without the mild violence and Pat Morita to distract from the clichéd plot. In this case, the story takes place during the summer of 1963, only the Beatles and the Beach Boys are noticeably absent. Jeffrey (Matt Dillon) is a poor kid living in Brooklyn. One of his well-off friends takes him on a guest pass to the exclusive El Flamingo beach club. Jeffrey is impressed enough with the atmosphere that he ignored the cold treatment he receives from those rich enough to afford membership. When he displays his handiness with a temperamental car, he is offered a job on the spot. Great, he thinks — a summer in the sun. He even meets a girl, Carla (Janet Jones, now the wife of hockey great Wayne Gretzky).
When Carla invites Jeffrey to her uncle and aunt’s house, it’s his induction into their world. Her uncle, Phil Brody (Richard Crenna — Wait Until Dark, The Sand Pebbles, First Blood), is part owner of the El Flamingo. He is impressed by Jeffrey’s moxie, and promotes him from valet to cabana boy. Now Jeffrey has the opportunity to rub shoulders with the socialites of the club. Phil even takes the lad under his wing, and attempts to instill in him his get-rich-quick view of the world. This irks Jeffrey’s father, Arthur (Hector Elizondo — virtually any other movie directed by Garry Marshall, including Pretty Woman), a decent, hardworking man who has tried to raise his son to be the same way. The friendship between Phil and Jeffrey drives a wedge between Jeffrey and his father. Jeffrey moves out, convinced that Phil will be true to his word to make him a sports car salesman. However, the job turns out to only be as a stock boy. That blow, and the revelation that Phil cheats at cards with his “friends,” convinces Jeffrey that his humble roots are more important to him than the golden but hollow life of his new rich friends.
Matt Dillon was twenty at the time The Flamingo Kid was released, and was already well on his way to being a star. He was a member of the “Brat Pack,” the group of young actors that included C. Thomas Howell, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, and Emilio Estevez. He had already appeared in Rumble Fish and The Outsiders, both directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The years since have also brought great and diverse roles — Nicole Kidman’s husband turned murder victim in To Die For; the scheming, lusting high school counselor in Wild Things; and the very model of a slimeball in There’s Something About Mary. His Jeffrey is grounded. He doesn’t overact, and he seems very sincere.
I think the real problem with the movie is Garry Marshall’s script and his direction. The movie’s scant 98 minute running time drags by like a humid summer afternoon spent weeding a garden. There’s not enough action to propel the plot. After the first 45 minutes, I checked the time remaining every ten minutes…to me, it felt like every half-hour. It’s not necessarily boring; it’s just slow.
Coming from Anchor Bay, I was sorely disappointed with the DVD release of The Flamingo Kid. The movie is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and full-frame, on opposite sides of the disc. The non-anamorphic picture is soft — not unusual for media filmed in the ’70s or early ’80s. The picture is marred by occasional shimmering and color bleeding, but overall is acceptable. Audio is presented in Dolby Surround. Or at least, that’s how my receiver decoded it and how the disc is labeled. I’m convinced the disc was actually mono: I heard nary a peep out of anything but the center channel. The disc is bereft of extras…no trailer, no talent files, not even subtitles. Oh, wait, there’s liner notes!
The Flamingo Kid was produced by American Broadcasting Company (also known as the ABC television network) and 20th Century Fox. How the DVD release fell into the hands of Anchor Bay, or why Anchor Bay just slapped the movie on a wholly unremarkable DVD is completely beyond me.
I can’t recommend The Flamingo Kid on the merits of the weak movie or the weaker DVD. This release is strictly for fans only.
As usual, there’s plenty of then-unknowns waiting to be seen in the background. Improbable Academy Award® winner (for the Ralph Macchio vehicle, My Cousin Vinny), Marisa Tomei, makes her screen debut. You might notice John Turturro as a Long Island hoodlum. It’s his first screen role that gives him a name other than “Guy At Bar.” He has appeared in four Coen Brothers movies, including The Big Lebowski. The Internet Movie Database also says Steven Weber (Wings, The Shining miniseries, Dracula: Dead And Loving It) appears, though I never saw him. Oh, and last but not least, Bronson Pinchot (Beverly Hills Cop, True Romance, The First Wives Club) appears as one of Jeffrey’s more flamboyant friends.