Picks and Pans Review: The Neon Empire

updated 12/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Showtime (Sun., Dec. 3,9 P.M. ET)

D+

There should be a story in the transformation of Las Vegas from a sleepy desert town into a gambling mecca, but this overstuffed gangster melodrama isn't it.

Ray Sharkey, as a character based on Bugsy Siegel, gives another of the mad-dog performances he has specialized in since his comeback from drugs. He grabs the role in his incisors and shakes it until the lights go out, playing every scene as if he were King Lear raging on the beach at Coney Island. Miles below Sharkey's tempestuous lead, the rest of the cast (Martin Landau, Linda Fiorentino, Harry Guardino, Gary Busey in his first part since the motorcycle accident) slogs along without distinction, trading bad dialogue and chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes. (TV's biggest nicotine nut, Mort Downey, never smoked as much as these people.)

This two-part tumbleweed tragedy (conclusion on Monday) about a hoodlum's hubris would have been more interesting if it had adopted either the tackiness or the grandeur of Las Vegas.

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