THE FLAMINGO KID is set in 1963, but it's a Beach-Blanket movie for the '80s -- star Matt Dillon dates a bikini-clad coed and is sensitive, all at the same time.
There were no bikinis in the old days, only two-pieces, and not many sensitive guys either. But director Garry Marshall makes allowances for new tastes in swimsuits, male egos and imported beer, all of it set to '60s rock'n'roll.
Janet Jones debuts as a California girl in search of a different surf at the El Flamingo Club on Long Island, where the Kid works as a cabana boy for her uncle (Richard Crenna). Jones, whose legs get more camera time than her face, is the intriguing love interest. Only the interest isn't love. It's a crisis of ideals.
"Kid" is a sluggish but thoughtful comedy about the clash between classes, the nouveau rich vs. the Brooklyn proletariat. The question is not which group had the worst taste, but what was better -- money or morality, which the well-heeled had cast aside in favor of ashtrays shaped like large orange kidney beans.
Dillon, playing a plumber's son in the days when plumbers were poor, must choose the right path to upward mobility. His father dreams of sending him to college. His new mentor, a fast-talking auto sales mogul, says, "Forget literature, religion, music, philosophy. You never see a philsopher drivin' a car like this. Socrates rode around on a donkey."
Today's teens would probably pick father figure number two, played by Crenna, who coincidentally made a specialty of comic adolescent roles in his early career on "Our Miss Brooks" and "Burns and Allen." Here he has his best role ever as the seductive salesman who becomes the rival for a father's affections.
Obie-winner Hector Elizondo is also marvelous as the Kid's down-to-earth dad, whose passion is honesty and the family going out to dinner together. But Dillon's horizons have gone beyond his Brooklyn stoop to encompass the nouveau glitz of the El Flamingo and the finer things in life -- remote control for the TV and pinky rings.
The performances make up for the sloppy history in the film, and it's a good-hearted and diverting story.
"The Flamingo Kid" is a summer comedy that somehow sees the light on the shortest day of the year, like a much-needed Caribbean vacation. THE FLAMINGO KID -- Area theaters.