Picks and Pans Review: Sinatra

updated 11/09/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/09/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

CBS (Sun., Nov. 8, 8 P.M. ET)

B-

Hey, all you cats and chicks, come fly with me. Here's the miniseries devoted to the man who ranks right behind Elvis as the most celebrated popular singer of this century. Broadway veteran Philip Casnoff (see story, page 107) stars as young and 0l' Blue Eyes, following his arc from little wharf rat, singing for pennies in his mother's Hoboken saloon, to entertainment legend.

Things start slowly with a hokey depiction of the antipasto years when Frank was the only person who believed in his talent. As the decades roll by, both the action and the music improve. (Australian Tom Burlinson provides the voice for the young singer in live performances, and later, Frank Sinatra Jr. chips in a few vocals. But, for the most part, Sinatra's own recordings are used. This is the first mini to spawn a double CD sound track, a valuable retrospective of Sinatra's catalog.) The real fun doesn't begin until the '50s and '60s, the boozy Vegas and Palm Springs era. The most delicious scene presents the entire Rat Pack (Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, et al.) in a casino steam room with then Sen. John F. Kennedy—although as Sinatra notes, while introducing JFK to Sammy Davis Jr., "Around here, we call him chickie baby."

Besides Frank, no character has any real presence, except for his preternaturally loyal press agents and three of his wives. (Gina Gershon plays Nancy, Marcia Gay Harden is Ava Gardner, and Nina Siemaszko is Mia Farrow. The action stops before his 1976 marriage lo Barbara Marx.) That's because in the end, this is less a biography than a serial romance.

To keep the project in the realm of nonfiction, executive producer Tina Sinatra has preserved enough scenes that present her father as an arrogant, womanizing bully. But the flaws are offset by the mini's lingering over every setback and indignity he ever endured. The script even includes a 1950 suicide attempt, prompted by a lull in his popularity and another stormy chapter in his relationship with Gardner.

Casnoff manages to carry off a physical resemblance to Sinatra only for a short period on the second night (the mini concludes on Tuesday with Sinatra's first comeback, in 1974). But the actor gives a game arid enjoyable performance throughout.

The whole thing is cheesier than a deep-dish lasagna, but the headliner alone makes it worth the price of admission.

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