Las Vegas Review
James Caan has enjoyed some very good Big Screen roles over the last three decades - from The Godfather to Michael Mann's Thief, Rollerball to Sam Peckinpah's Killer Elite and, more recently, Stephen King's Misery and the excellent modern-day Western, The Way of The Gun. He has a great screen presence, has created some memorable film personas and made a name for himself as a tough take-no-nonsense kind of guy. So when I heard that he was taking on the role of running a casino in a TV series, I had justifiably high hopes. The end result was not quite what I had expected - with DeNiro's Casino in mind, I expected a gritty, Sopranos-like affair full of broken bones and mob corruption. Since the mafia are no longer (overtly) involved in Las Vegas casinos, it is understandable that a modern drama about a casino should adopt a more modern approach. So what we get may not have the blood and guts of one of Scorsese's finest, but it does capture all the glitz and glamour of the world's ultimate gambling city, adopting a serious but fun, cocky but clever approach to story-telling, again ideally suited to the setting.
The story revolves around the running of the Montecito Resort and Casino in Vegas. 'Big' Ed Deline (James Caan on top form) is President of Operations, an ex-Delta Force and ex-CIA operative who runs the whole show from a big monitor-laden office where the faces and actions of everybody in the entire casino can be scrutinized. His right-hand-man is Danny McCoy (Josh Duhamel, kind of like a straight-laced Johnny Knoxville), a young ex-marine with as close an eye on the pretty women that populate the establishment as on the sneaky criminals trying to steal from the casino. We also have Mike (James Lesure), purportedly just a valet but with more than one hidden talent that Big Ed and his crew rely on. Then of course we have the lovely ladies that populate the drama - probably the biggest core of beautiful actresses you are likely to come across in a TV show. First there's Ed's soft-spot, his daughter Delinda (ex-model Molly Sims), one of the casino hosts, Sam (Vanessa Marcil), the pit-boss Nessa (Marsha Thomason, whose pretty looks are ruined by Joe 90 glasses and a hairstyle that seems to get progressively worse) and the events coordinator, Mary (Nikki Cox, the tall one with the distractingly prominent cleavage and the gorgeous smile). Aside from host Sam, who is often seen playing to the casino's guests' every whim and fancy, they basically spend the majority of their time hanging around together and looking fabulous. Many of their biggest plot developments involve Danny, who has been close with more than one of them, at one time or another, but we also do see the odd episode where the focus is on one of them.
The first season introduced us to all of the main characters, kicking off with Danny's on-off relationship with Ed's daughter being brought to a permanent close by her father, the casino coming down hard on the regular batch of cheats, followed up with no end of guest stars to spice up each and every subsequent episode. These included Alec Baldwin, Jon Lovitz, Jean Claude Van Damme, Elliot Gould, Mimi Rogers and Dennis Hopper. We see Ed proving himself to be the man in charge, with Danny on a progressive learning curve in both his job and his many relationships. Most significant of the character developments is probably that of the valet, Mike, who progresses into the more technical side of the security department after showing off his talents as a computer whiz. The season culminated with the casino under bomb threat and Danny being drafted back into the Marines for one last op, resulting in him getting together with childhood sweetheart Mary on his last night.
The second series kicks off with Danny's return, although initially he seems somewhat shell-shocked and haunted by his clandestine military experiences. Things eventually return to normal, but the season soon sees Ed facing a murder charge and having to confront the demons of his secretive past, Danny and Mary's relationship having its ups and downs, the girls getting into trouble in the desert, Ed getting kidnapped, a murderer on the loose in the casino and, more generally, plenty of reasons for Ed to raise his fists and Danny to draw a gun, all culminating in a big finale where the new owner of the casino makes some drastic changes. Alec Baldwin returns as Ed's sly old partner, Jack, for a fabulous episode about a missing painting, Sylvester Stallone makes a nice, if brief return to the screen for a couple of the more serious stories, Jon Lovitz returns to provide a few funny moments, Snoop Dogg appears as himself, trying to make a music video in the casino and we get a great crossover episode where the cast of the murder investigation series Crossing Jordan (including the lovely Jill Hennessy) visit the Montecito. The finale gives us Jon Bon Jovi, Superman's Dean Cain and Gladys Knight to contend with.
Las Vegas is a fast-moving, fun escapade set in the deceit-stricken world of gambling. Feverishly stylish, this is easygoing MTV drama that you can happily pass your time watching. Many episodes are familiar and forgettable, some are striking mostly because of the superb guest stars, but all of it is highly entertaining. This second season is purportedly uncut and uncensored, but that basically mean we get to see more cleavage and more of the sides of women's breasts - particularly in the topless episode and the Pussycat Dolls episode - but very little else. Still, the show is pretty snappy and pretty sexy, using the same winning tactics of the first, with a few more fights and some serious character-developing episodes thrown into the mix with the rest of the fun bunch. It may not have the suspense of 24 (though it does occasionally use the same split-screen gimmick) but neither does it have the relentless tension - and thankfully it is not another morbid murder investigation drama. So sit back and enjoy the adventures in the town where simply anything can happen.