Video Review

The Neon Empire (1991)

MPAA Rating: R
EW's GRADE
B-

Details Movie Rated: R; Genres: Drama, Mystery and Thriller; With: Gary Busey, Martin Landau and Ray Sharkey

In the wake of Hollywood's recent on-screen crime wave, mob movies have become as hard to keep track of as the Corleone family tree. The good ones need no introduction. But the bad ones deserve one, if only as a warning.

More desultory than truly disastrous, the made-for-cable Neon Empire dramatizes the building of Las Vegas by gangsters loosely based on the Bugsy Siegel bunch. The main mover and shaker here is played by Ray Sharkey, who's basically doing a variation on his Sonny Steelgrave character from the Wiseguy TV series. Even so, his hair-trigger performance dominates this drama, despite a cast that includes Linda Fiorentino and Gary Busey.

They hold their own, at least, while Dylan McDermott is merely bland as Sharkey's right-hand man. Doubling as the story's narrator, McDermott reads screenwriter Pete Hamill's fake tough prose with such an affectless monotone that it sounds even sillier than it is. But that dullness is typical of the entire enterprise. Under Larry Peerce's workmanlike direction, this saga doesn't have the style to make up for what it lacks in breadth or depth. The result is a would-be epic that stays as flat as the Nevada desert.

Blood Vows is worse. Originally shown as a network TV movie, it's a prime- time example of that form at its lowest. Melissa Gilbert stars as a career girl from the Midwest who weds a tall, dark, handsome New York lawyer (Joe Penny), only to discover too late that she's married to the mob. But she's too stupid to be true, and as she searches in vain for a way out, our sympathy dries up faster than blood. Neon Empire: C- Blood Vows: F

Originally posted May 12, 2008 Published in issue #56 Mar 08, 1991 Order article reprints