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Jeff Willis (Matt Dillon) is brighter than the average boy from Brooklyn. His doting dad Arthur (Hector Elizondo) is a hard-working plumber who wants Jeff to do something with his life; to attend college and become an engineer. Arthur is unhappy when Jeff takes a summer job parking cars at a posh Long Island beach club. There The Kid's head is turned by Phil Brody (Richard Crenna), a fast car wheeler-dealer whose idea of success is to get rich quick. Promoted to cabana boy, earning easy money from generous tips on the beach, Jeff no longer sees the point in working hard for a living. He's happy watching the super-slick Brody winning big at gin-rummy ...until he catches his mentor in the act of being himself.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
After putting his pen to some of the best television ever written, (Happy Days, The Odd Couple, The Dick Van Dyke and Lucy Shows) and before directing Pretty Woman, The Other Sister and Runaway Bride, Garry Marshall wrote and directed this rites of passage comedy which bridges the generation gap in Marshall's typically wizardly way.

When Matthew Broderick withdrew to make the forgettable Ladyhawke, Matt Dillon walked into a rewrite as 18-year-old Jeff Willis, a punk spunk in a pork-pie hat from working-class Brooklyn who learns all the wrong things about the good things in life while spending the summer of 1963 working at El Flamingo, a stuffy Long Island beach club.

There, at this gaudy playground for sweaty swarms of the nouveau riche, a voice on the P.A. warns that the "fireworks are for members only...non-members, don't look up!" Here, idle millionaires like the world's doorknob king surround himself with reflectors, beaming daylong sunshine onto his scorched brown body. Luxury car wheeler-dealer Phil Brody (Richard Crenna) is another with a laid-back lifestyle who works on a shadier agenda. Brody owns a slice of El Flamingo and wants to win it all from a doddery former air-force colonel who shot down five planes during the war and reminds us that "four of them were ours." Gin-rummy is flash Brody's game...and he is so impressed by Jeff's card-playing skills that he takes him under his wing, keen to groom him for the money-grabbing good life.

With lame platitudes and facile philosophy, Brody instils in The Kid a "get rich quick" mentality, but Jeff's doting dad is horrified when he hears the boy parroting Brody's "you are what you wear" kind of easy-speak. The hard-working plumber fears he is fast losing Jeff to the silk-shirted card-shark and is furious when Brody intervenes in an argument: "You should open up your mind and listen to what (Jeff's) got to say," is the last thing Arthur Willis wanted to hear from Brody about his own son. It's clear that some lessons must be learned if the good old fashioned family values that Arthur has tried to impress on Jeff are going to stick.

While not as slick as some of its better known coming of age predecessors - The Last Picture Show (1971), American Graffiti (1973) and Breaking Away (1979) - The Flamingo Kid deserves its place with them in the New York Times book of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made (1999), for appeasing multitudes with its near perfect cast, satirical savvy and incidental pleasures. There's a body in the shapeliness of Janet Jones, who Jeff understandably falls for, but it's Jessica Walter who steals scenes as Brody's imperious wife Phyllis. She is the quintessential snob, disdainful of everyone and prone to upgrade words like "toilet" to "facility." She makes the question "isn't that the boy from the parking lot?" sound like a disease! And Marshall himself might once have been Peter, the lonely fat boy who meanders between members sunning themselves on the beach, annoying everyone with his toy truck.

The script cleverly lampoons American class consciousness while blasting out a regulation nostalgia soundtrack with some great songs, and finally delivering heartfelt emotional impact. This is one of those rare films that are impossible not to like.

Published October 14, 2004

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(US, 1984)

CAST: Matt Dillon, Hector Elizondo, Richard Crenna, Jessica Walter

DIRECTOR: Garry Marshall

SCRIPT: Neal and Garry Marshall

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9 widescreen. Dolby digital.



DVD RELEASE: October 4, 2004

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