(director/writer: Martin Scorsese; screenwriter: Nicholas Pileggi/based on the book by Nicholas Pileggi; cinematographer: Robert Richardson; editor: Thelma Schoonmaker; cast: Robert De Niro (Sam Rothstein), Sharon Stone (Ginger McKenna), Joe Pesci (Nicky Santoro), James Woods (Lester Diamond), Don Rickles (Billy Sherbert), Alan King (Andy Stone), Kevin Pollak (Phillip Green), L. Q. Jones (Pat Webb), Dick Smothers (Senator); Frankie Avalon (Himself), Steve Allen (Himself), Jayne Meadows (herself), Jerry Vale (Himself), Oscar Goodman (Himself), Pasquale Cajan(Remo Gaggi), Frank Vincent (Frankie), Vinnie Vella (Artie Piscano), Melissa Prophet(Jennifer Santoro); Runtime: 170; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Barbara De Fina; Warner Home Video; 1995)
“Overlong and tedious crime drama epic. A kinetic behind-the-scenes look at the Vegas casinos.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Overlong and tedious crime drama epic. A kinetic behind-the-scenes look at the Vegas casinos. It’s a look at the mob that’s been rehashed many times before so that nothing is fresh. Director Martin Scorsese (“Kundun”/”Taxi Driver”/”GoodFellas”)can’t get a handle on this history lesson (based on an actual story) on how the mob controlled the Las Vegas casinos in the 1970s but by the late 1980s lost it to corporate America. The bloody tale about sex, drugs, gambling and mobsters is based on a book byinvestigative journalist Nicholas Pileggi. The first two hours are weighed down by a constant voice-over from either Robert De Niro or Joe Pesci (from beyond the grave) explaining how the casino operates and this voice-over makes it feel more like a docudrama than a narrative. By the time we get to the third hour of this glossy photographed gambling story and some semblance of a narrative kicks in, we probably lost all interest in these ugly characters and in this ugly tale of corruption, violence and greed. It’s a Tower of Babel story that’s all so passionless, uninviting and not worth betting a plugged nickel on, even though competently made, well-acted and watchable.
The pic charts the Las Vegas experience ofNYCgambling prodigySam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (Robert De Niro), whom the midwest mob boss Remo Gaggi (Pasquale Cajan) puts in charge of the Tangiers casino because he has a genius for making money and knows everything about gambling. Legit real-estate man Phil Green (Kevin Pollak) is given the title of running the casino to present a squeaky clean image to the public, while in reality Sam runs the gambling operation and Phil is not squeaky clean. Also in reality Sam’s only the front man for the Kansas City mob. The Italian mob refers to him as their Hebe–the money machine handicapper/bookie who can change the odds just by placing a bet. Though unable to get a license from the crooked gaming commission because of a prior conviction for bookmaking, Sam still runs the casino by changing job titles every so often so his job title never is reviewed. The bosses are happy that Sam keeps the casino highly profitable and he does a good job of providing kickbacks to police, politicians and allowing the mob backers to every month skim money off the top without those funds entered into the books for taxes. Sam tells us in his voice-over some of the tricks of the trade on how the power structure works in running the casinos. His fall from grace comes about when he blindly falls madly in love with sexy former hooker and current hustler of high-rollers Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone) and they marry, even though she says she doesn’t love him and still carries on a relationship with her former pimp (James Woods). Their volatile marriage will over the years become a disaster and bring both of them down.
Sam’s success in Las Vegas brings his former bodyguard, the psychopathic violent mob enforcer ‘made-man’ Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) out there. He’s Sam’s childhood friend and was assigned by the mob to protect Sam when he was a bookie in NYC. In Las Vegas Nicky becomes a loose cannon, doing freelance jewelry heists and racketeering jobs despite being under FBI surveillance. Nicky gets banned from the casinos as a known criminal and, because the FBI is looking to nail him and wiretaps his phones, Sam gets associated with the known gangster and also becomes a target of the investigation into Las Vegas casino mob control and corruption.
The action begins and ends in 1983 with the De Niro character about to be blown up in a car bomb. Those shots reminded me of those cliff-hanger serials, where the hero seems doomed in one chapter but in the next chapter finds a way to get free that was unexpected.
This is a disappointing Scorsese film. A remake of GoodFellas that lacks that pic’s good story telling ability and its raw energy. But I enjoyed its rich 1960’s rock score.
REVIEWED ON 4/26/2011 GRADE: C