Judge P.S. Colbert has entered the witness protection program and changed his name to Henry Hill.
Let the sin begin.
Conventional wisdom says that one cannot polish a turd.
O.K., so it's not a turd, but the complete series of twenty-one episodes exhibited on Vegas: The Complete Series proves that one also cannot transcend mediocrity, no matter how much polish one applies. Just to be clear, Vegas isn't bad. Sometimes, it's pretty damned…well, it's what my colleague Judge Clark Douglas might call "engaging sock-folding television," which is pretty damned disappointing, considering the heavy hitters involved, off-screen and on.
There's about a half hour of sunlight left on this particular Las Vegas, Nevada evening in 1960. Widowed rancher Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid, At Any Price) and his younger brother Jack (Jason O'Mara, Life on Mars) are corralling 176 head of cattle, in preparation for the next day's drive to market. Suddenly, a jet airplane screams overhead, scattering the herd and driving Ralph into such paroxysms of fury that he charges off toward the airport on horseback.
Things don't go well once he arrives. Ralph is curtly advised by airport management that jet planes are the way of the future, and will be appearing more frequently as the days go by. What's more, rounding up 200 lbs of beef before the sun goes down in thirty minutes is Ralph's problem, not the airline industry's. And, oh, by the way, his horse is illegally parked.
Coming in on that flight is none other than Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis, The Shield), an upper-mid level Chicago mobster who made his bones running casinos in Havana, before Castro's revolution drove "American interests" out of Cuba. Savino's new assignment is to take over management of the lavish Savoy Hotel, which has been "leaking cash," thus cutting into the skim money going to the Chi-town bosses back home. The Savoy's newly minted manager touches ground just in time to see (and appreciate) Ralph single-handedly kick the tar out of several burly airport security guards.
Circumstances soon conspire to bring these two together. A young woman's body is discovered in the desert on the Nevada Test Site—where routine, controlled atomic blasts were conducted throughout the 1950s and '60s. Upon being informed that the rape-murder victim is the Governor's niece (not to mention an accountant at the Savoy), Mayor Ted Bennett (Michael O'Neill, Leverage) sees his reelection chances disintegrating before him unless he gets this case solved, pronto.
Unable to reach the sheriff (whose body will soon show up in another part of the desert), Bennett calls on an old army buddy; one of the best damned MPs he's ever seen: Ralph Lamb. Though Ralph's not interested in making a career change, he agrees to investigate the case on the condition that the mayor has a word with air traffic control about changing those flight patterns.
Realizing that he's going to need backup he can trust (Vegas lawmen having a bit of a reputation and all), Ralph duly deputizes brother Jack and—perhaps in an effort to save on babysitting expenses—his own son Dixon (Taylor Handley, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning), a hot-headed young twentysomething with a penchant for chasing women, and being chased by shotgun-wielding fathers. Who knows, maybe a little more quality time with his own father, while in hot pursuit of sharp-suited Midwestern hoods, might be just the thing to teach him a sense of responsibility?
Of course, any true and thorough investigation of this particular case will inevitably lead the Lambs to the Savoy, now being run by—-You see what they did there?
What about girls? There have to be girls, right? Now, I don't mean the high-kickers of the Lido line chorus girls (though there are plenty of those on display), but serious girls—ahem—make that "Strong Women," you know, to serve as femme fatales and/or romantic interests for the male leads—not to mention steering this sausage-fest away from becoming a homoerotic free-for-all.
Enter Assistant D.A. Katherine O'Connell (Carrie-Ann Moss, Memento) for Ralph, sheriff's office manager Yvonne Sanchez (Aimee Garcia, Dexter) for Dixon, and the Savoy's new chief financial officer, Mia Rizzo (Sarah Jones, Love Takes Wing) for Jack. Each woman is drop-dead gorgeous, and more importantly (wink, wink), career-centered and strong. As for Vincent and his mobster buddies, they're career criminals, so naturally, they're entitled to multiple female companions, usually of the high-kicking Lido line chorus girl sort.
Suffice to say, the star-stuffed cast is appealing, and everything looks fabulously glossy—grotesque murder victim remains included—and expensive, if not completely familiar. And who do we have to thank for creating this bloated, sub-Scorcese nonsense? Why, it's legendary crime reporter turned author/screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi (Goodfellas, Casino), who should be ashamed of himself, but probably made enough money off this deal to pay someone else to feel ashamed for him.
Ho hum: Paramount has done its standard stellar work with the audio and visual transfers, while loading up the Special Features, including deleted scenes, selected audio commentaries, and short, gushy "making of" featurettes devoted to building the Savoy Hotel set, and musical score composer David Carbonara. There's even a gag real—no, really.
O.K., there's another extra that I feel loathe to mention: It's called "He Ain't Like The Real Law—Profile of the Real Ralph Lamb." Yes, there really was a Las Vegas sheriff named Ralph Lamb (the longest in Sin City's history), and yes, he owned a ranch. Mr. Lamb is interviewed for this piece, which artfully avoids pointing out how much of Vegas: The Complete Series tells a fictionalized—bowdlerized, really—version of events.
The biggest crime, ironically, is that they took one man's extraordinary story and made it extra…ordinary.
I invoke my constitutional Fifth Amendment rights, on the grounds that rendering in this case may prove injurious to my future.
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