By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Kidnapping kids for ransom.
Roland (Graham Beckel) is an out-of-work slacker who’s always looking for the easy-way-out. He’s dating Lucy (Regina Baff) who babysits for Richard (Laurence Luckinbill) and his wife Ellen (Elizabeth Richards). Despite living in a posh neighborhood Richard is having problems of his own. His business isn’t doing well and he needs a loan, but his wife, who does have a large sum stashed away, refuses to give him any financial assistance. When Roland goes with Lucy to look after Richard’s kids (played by the real-life children of the director) he comes up with the idea of kidnapping them for ransom as he mistakenly presumes Richard must be ‘loaded’. Once Richard realizes that his kids have been taken he instructs his wife not to call the police and instead convinces her to take out the money she has in savings to pay for the ransom. Richard though uses this money for the loan while offering Roland only a small portion of it. Roland refuses the offer and the two bicker while the kids remain locked inside a car outside in a parking lot with the temperature nearing a 100 degrees.
The mark of a talented director isn’t how good they are when given a big studio contract and all the money they need, but instead what they can do when on a shoestring budget. Make no mistake this thing on a technical level struggles, but much can be blamed on the extremely poor transfer that’s streaming on Amazon Prime where they apparently found a very grainy video print and made no attempt to clean it up. The result is faded, scratchy, and at certain points even shaky similar to back in the 70’s (if you’re old enough to remember) when a teacher would show a movie in school and film would begin to jump and the image onscreen would get blurry. Fortunately the shaking bit here is only temporary, but Amazon should’ve had better standards before they offer a film up for streaming. Granted it’s nice to see a hard-to-find obscure flick, but at least some effort should’ve been given to restoring it.
Anyways, if you can get past all of this, it does have its share of intriguing elements. I loved the way it captures the Jersey boardwalk scene of the era and juxtaposes between the rich and poor and how both sides seem to be desperate in their own unique ways. There’s no ‘good guy’ here. Everyone is screwed-up and filled with human foibles. The amusement comes with seeing just how corrupt they can become without totally falling over-the-edge.
Beckel is excellent. This was only is third feature film appearance after debuting in The Paper Chase yet he comes into his own here and exudes the perfect caricature of a down-and-out, irritable young man who wants no part of the system and only looking for ways to cheat it. Luckinbill isn’t as strong and the ultimate confrontation between the two doesn’t work though you do get to see Danny DeVito in an early role as a bartender as well as George Hearn, who later became a big Broadway star in the play ‘Sweeney Todd’, as a bank manager. A young Josh Mostel, who later reunited with the director in the film Stoogemania, has a really amusing bit as a wheel-of-fortune arcade operator who inadvertently lets down his guard and gets taken advantage of by Beckel.
What I didn’t like was the ending. The whole film, up until that point, was filled with a lot of delicious twists, but once it gets to the finale it had no idea where to go and falls completely flat. Granted having the kids die in a car from heat stroke would be way too severe for a playful dark comedy, but ultimately there’s no cause and effect. Intriguing ideas get entered in, but then quickly forgotten. At the end everything goes back to normal like everything we watched didn’t have an impact on any of the characters. In a good story the characters are expected to grow and change during the course of a movie and I really didn’t see that here especially with Richard.
Having Beckel act like he had now ‘made it’ simply because he’s got $10,000 in his pocket from the kidnapping was unrealistic. Even if you add in the gold watch and fancy car, which Richard also gives him, it would still not be enough to retire on especially with the way Beckel spends it. I was expecting to see him back in a desperate situation as he was clearly not going to be living high-on-the-hog for that long and having the movie stop while he’s ‘living-it-up’ is a cop-out. It’s also not clear if his girlfriend Lucy was in on the kidnapping plot, or not. During the movie it’s made to seem like she was a victim too as she’s found in the home tied-up, but then at the end she meets Beckel at the fancy hotel he’s staying-at. If she was in cahoots with him the whole time that should’ve, at the conclusion, been better confirmed as just having her show up at the hotel doesn’t mean she was a part of the plan and may have just went there because he told her that’s where he was staying.
Alternate Title: Atlantic City Jackpot
Released: June 10, 1976
Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes
Director: Chuck Workman
Studio: Independent-International Pictures
Available: Epix, Amazon Video