Radio monologist David Staebler is called to Atlantic City by his brother Jason, who wants him to come in on an island real estate deal. David is drawn into the world of his brother, who is involved with middle-aged kewpie doll Sally and her waif stepd
Director Bob Rafelson and star Jack Nicholson reunited after the seminal Five Easy Pieces on this still-underrated 1972 classic. As he would in About Schmidt, Nicholson shows his range by keeping his eyebrows steady and playing an interior-directed, repressed character, allowing the superb Bruce Dern to be the dangerous, charismatic, always-talking wild man, only tentatively emerging from his shell to join the role-playing games constantly indulged in by Dern and his two-girl harem.
The plot is oblique, with the hero never quite fathoming what the deal is between his brother and a genially sinister local gangster (Scatman Crothers). There is so much focus on the Staeblers’ island dream of creating a resort called ‘Staebleravia’ that the finish comes out of left field, as the brothers are so wrapped up in each other’s troubles they fail to notice just how cracked and dangerous nearly-cast-aside, gun-waving mistress Ellen Burstyn (in career-best work) is becoming.
Rafelson turns out-of-season Atlantic City into an eerie, depopulated locale, inhabited by hoods, hustlers and lost souls. Robinson, who never made another film, is one of the great lost faces of the 1970s, a hippie chick alternative Miss World who shows more grit than her outwardly with-it stepmother. Jacob Brackman’s script gives Nicholson several set-piece to-camera talks, memorably an opening talk about his grandfather, and awards bit-part gangster Charles LaVine a quotable speech about the difference between ‘a dirty double-crosser and a dirty trouble-causer’.
Criminally underrated with two great performances from the lead males.