Picks and Pans Review: Bugsy

updated 12/23/1991 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/23/1991 01:00AM

Warren Beatty, Annette Bening

Some movie failures (artistic if not box office) inspire heartfelt glee. The failure of Bugsy, however, inspires only regret; it's clear how much effort was expended for little return.

With a wife and two daughters stashed in Scarsdale, N.Y., debonair mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel heads to Los Angeles to cut his boys in on the West Coast action and to rub elbows with movie stars. His travel plans don't call for falling in love, but he does, with starlet Virginia Hill (Annette Bening), a babe who has been around the block a few times—and is proud of it.

It is on a trip through the Nevada desert with Virginia and henchman Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) that Siegel hatches his notion of building the first Las Vegas hotel-casino. Bugsy treats this vision with a reverence that would be excessive in a movie about the invention of the wheel. Ben Kingsley as Meyer Lansky, and the late rock impresario Bill Graham as Charles "Lucky" Luciano, are quietly excellent as Siegel's partners in crime.

Unfortunately, there is about as much chemistry between Beatty and Bening (his offscreen love and soon-to-be mother of his child) as there was between Beatty and Madonna (his former offscreen love) in Dick Tracy. Which is to say, not much. More unfortunately, Bening is all pouts and twitching hips, and Beatty plays Bugsy now as a nutty sitcom dad, now as a poor man's Jack Nicholson. While Bugsy expertly captures the glamor of '40s Hollywood, it fails as the drama of a man whose dreams of glory lure him to an ignominious end. (R)

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