Written by / 12/11/2011 / No comments / , , , , , , ,

A NEGATIVE REVIEW OF THE OVERLONG/OVERRATED 'CASINO'

year: 1995 cast: Robert De Niro rating: **1/2
During the first act, as we learn the intricate ins-and-outs of a 1970's Las Vegas CASINO… taking us so close inside the operation we feel both part of the roulette tables and the dice rolling across them... it's intentionally created in the same flowing biographical fashion director Martin Scorsese showed us with an entire mob's operation in GOODFELLAS...

But then something happens, or stops happening, or both: The main character, Sam "Ace" Rothstein, played by Robert De Niro, is a man of mind, not action. He’s to gambling what Scorsese is to directing… a natural… and the casino itself becomes an absorbing character: we feel pulse of the machines, and the men behind the scenes, keeping the moneymaking beast alive while protecting it from cheaters, con artists, and crooked politicians.

Poster too good for the movie, fella
Enter Joe Pesci as Nicky, Rothstein’s childhood friend: the muscle who is familiar and cocky, dangerous and ultimately undependable. And there's the flavor of the month, Sharon Stone, as Sam’s trophy girlfriend turned wife, Ginger, who becomes the apple of his eye – and soon, for a man who seemed so infallible, nothing matters but trusting a woman who repeatedly warned him not to.

The movie hits a wall with this escalating-downhill relationship between Sam and Ginger, but it was faltering beforehand – De Niro, Pesci, and some of the other shady characters, although colorful and formidable, aren’t interesting enough to really care about – unlike GOODFELLAS, RAGING BULL or TAXI DRIVER, they all seem more written than real.

The duel-narration here... while beautiful in GOODFELLAS between Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco... works here and it doesn’t: De Niro’s by-the-numbers account is fine in the beginning, giving us a firsthand account of how things run, but it becomes a rambling safety net for the lack of a streamlined plot: especially when his business luck turns sour.

Another fan poster, or something
Meanwhile Joe Pesci’s counterpoint is completely unnecessary, sounding like a mafia goon's version of Bugs Bunny, filling us with details better left for the audience to figure on their own (and given his character's fate... is the narration recorded in Satan's private broadcasting station?)...

Then the last half runs itself completely ragged: juggling the dull doomed love story straight out of a nighttime soap, and Ace and Nicky's edgy friendship that meanders to a predictably violent conclusion (and they never seemed that tight to begin with for the eventual unraveling to really matter).

If Scorsese and scriptwriter Nicholas Pillegi stuck closer to the Casino, perhaps CASINO, and its characters, might have had more purpose. What we’re left with is too much style without substance.

(And has there ever been a character more deserving a bloody death than James Wood's pimp/hustler who not only repeatedly steals Stone from DeNiro, but kidnaps, and continually threatens, his daughter? While we witness the immense, overboard bloodshed of everyone else, James comes out with a few bruises. What the hell were they thinking?!)
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