Of all the young stars who rose to prominence in the 80’s, I often felt that Matt Dillon was maybe born in the wrong time. Perhaps its because of the roles he often played. I never think of him as an 80’s Brat Pack type star like a Rob Lowe or Judd Nelson, probably because the roles he played were often in 80’s films about the 50’s or 60’s. In 1984, Dillon’s big film role took him back to the year 1963 in The Flamingo Kid.
Dillon plays Jeffrey Willis, a kid from Brooklyn who is looking forward to a summer full of hanging with his buddies and playing cards. Gin, specifically. One day, his buddies (including Fisher Stevens and Bronson Pinchot) invite Jeffrey to to join them at an upscale beach club on Long Island, The Flamingo, where a hot game of gin happens. Jeffrey not only manages to mop the floor with the other players, but he also manages to land a job at the club parking cars for the summer.
Turns out that gin is a big deal with the regulars at the beach club, as well. The champ at the club is Phil Brody (Richard Crenna), a wealthy owner of several car dealerships. Jeffrey soon becomes quite fascinated with the lifestyle of Brody, and his attractive niece Carla (Janet Jones) who is visiting from California. Brody soon takes Jeffrey under his wing, not only teaching him more about cards, but also about the business of selling cars. Jeffrey soon starts to set his sights on becoming a car salesman, which doesn’t thrill his plumber father (Hector Elizondo).
Jeffrey even manages to get a job offer from Brody to work in one of his dealerships. To his surprise, however, it is not a salesman position, but stockboy. Jeffrey soon starts to feel as if he’s been had by the slick talking Brody. So, when Jeffrey realizes that the secret to Brody’s winning streak at gin is that he gets signals from a strategically positioned cohort, he hatches a scheme to beat the master in front of the whole club.
Like I said, Matt Dillon is perfectly suited for period pieces like this, as is director Garry Marshall. He created Happy Days, after all. The film has a great atmosphere to it, both in the Brooklyn scenes as well as the beach club sequences. I love the way the club has this Florida by way of New York feel to it. No doubt Marshall, who co-wrote the film, is drawing on his own experiences growing up in New York and it shows.
Though Dillon is solid, the highlight of the cast is Richard Crenna. This is right in the middle of a time where Crenna played a couple of rich jerks. He essentially played a different version of the same role a year later in the John Candy vehicle Summer Rental. Strangely, I like Crenna as a jerk. There’s just something about the way he plays the role that makes the final payoff, where he finally gets what’s coming to him, all the sweeter. Hector Elizondo, who appears in pretty much all of Marshall’s films is also very good. Elizondo vs Crenna makes for some nice moments. Somewhat out of place in the cast, however, is Janet Jones. She’s a solid actress and gorgeous in this role, but something about her look and the way she approaches the part does not feel like 1963 to me. It doesn’t help that her part has very little impact on Jeffrey’s story.
As nostalgia films go, The Flamingo Kid is a pretty solid entry. It’s got some solid performances and great atmosphere. A nice little flick for the end of the summer.