The Neon Empire was a four-hour cable miniseries. But even in this jerkily edited two-hour version, Pete Hamill’s script (inspired by the true story of how mafiosi Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky built Las Vegas) is as long-winded as John Milton.
Consider this snippet from the voice-over prologue: ”Most of my ghosts are here, whispering from the rooms of old dreams, speaking from the emptiness among nouns that now name nothing, signs that can’t be read, except by the archaeologists, but I know what they name — they name dreams. They…” Get this man an editor!
Yet somehow, Hamill and company manage to do the impossible and make something lurid, vulgar, and vital. Credit must go to the headliners. As the avuncular mob advisor Max Brower (based on Lansky), Martin Landau is a true mensch. As the Siegel-like Junior Moloff, Ray Sharkey (perhaps the best guest heavy ever on TV’s Wiseguy) really sinks his fangs into that overripe dialogue. They’re so good that you scarcely notice the desert wind whistling through the ears of no-talent burnout Gary Busey.
Despite its weaknesses The Neon Empire does have moments of genuine poetry. It’s a safe bet — but the payoff won’t ring any bells. B-