American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
James Toback's "The Pickup Artist" is an uneasy alliance of two incompatible groups of cliches. On the one hand we have the horny teenager movie, made no more palatable because the characters are slightly older and should know better by now. On the other hand, we have the desperate heroine trying to win enough money in Atlantic City to pay off her alcoholic father's gambling debts before he gets his kneecaps broken.
Any movie attempting to find room for both of these plots in the same space of time already would be in trouble, but "The Pickup Artist" even has guest appearances from other movies: actors playing the same roles in this film that they already have played in other, better films.
Dennis Hopper, for example, is the drunken father, a shambles of ruined self-loathing, drinking himself into oblivion while his child tries to help him. This is a guest shot from "Hoosiers." Then Harvey Keitel turns up as the sadistic mobster who wants to collect the money Hopper owes him. Later, in an Atlantic City casino, he gets his comeuppance from a gambling boss. Didn't we see this character in "Wise Guys"?
"The Pickup Artist" is so filled with borrowings and archetypes and cliches that there is no room for the one thing that might have saved it: Molly Ringwald's charm. After playing a teenager filled with life and wit in "Sixteen Candles" and "Pretty In Pink," she is left stranded in this film. If all of her shots were strung together into one unbroken piece of film, you would see her standing there speechless with her mouth hanging open for minute after minute. She arguably has fewer lines of dialogue in the film than the top three supporting players.