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Casino
Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Cranky walked into the theater with trepidation because he's got a bad back and Casino is three hours long. So, to save time:

Casino is the story of real people in a real town at a real time. In the early 70s, Las Vegas was a town where small-town hoods could make big-time bucks, on either side of the law. Small town gaming enforcement commissioners, state senators or small-town hoods, it made no difference. The money was there and the money was taken, all nicely under the table and out of sight of the IRS.

The Mob, financed by the Teamsters Union, skimmed big bucks out of their casinos. But bigger bucks were to be made. So they sent in bookie Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert De Niro) to run the gaming operations at the Tangiers Casino and Hotel on the Strip.

Sam wasn't a mobster, he was a bookie. He knew payoffs and protection. He hired the relatives of all the politicians who had any kind of power in the state of Nevada, right up the line, as insurance. Most of all, Rothstein knew gambling. He knew who the chip hustlers, the card cheaters, the slot riggers and other miscellaneous thieves were. And he cleaned them all out of the Tangiers.

And since every big-time spender needs a good-time girl on his arm (all the while slipping chips into their purses on top of the other tips they received), those he kept his eye on. Until he saw Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone), working the craps table. Love at first sight. So he married her.

Sam really did love Ginger, but he knew hustlers and he knew what they wanted. So he got Ginger pregnant first, thinking that a kid would always keep her around. He bought her a million dollars worth of jewelry, and put two million in cash in a safety deposit box to which she alone had the key. It was a small price to pay. It wouldn't be enough, for she was emotionally in thrall to her pimp.

Rothstein made the Mob an incredible amount of money. His bosses sent in a boyhood friend, Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), to make sure nothing happened to him. This friend would stab you in the neck with your own pen if you said the wrong thing. Then he'd kick you when you were down. On the side, Nicky ran a loansharking operation, and his own crew of gamblers and second-story men. And while Sam knew that sometimes you lose, Nicky knew that if he "lost" you would give him his money back or he'd split your head open in front of witnesses, go to jail, get out of jail and come right back and split your head open again.

Remember the bit about hiring the relatives of the politicos? One of these relatives was either completely inept or an incredibly stupid conspirator in an amazingly impossible set of slot machine payoffs, and this man Sam Rothstein fired.

I have now saved you from sitting through the first half of Casino.

Which is good because for the first hour and forty five minutes you might as well be watching a radio. There is very little you see on screen that the endless narrative set-up by both male characters doesn't explain in depth.

Which makes me feel sorry for the audience members who packed up and left after an hour forty. Once the firecracker goes off, you should be blown away. Martin Scorsese has overseen a very straightforward story, and while there are a couple of artsy shots of dice flying through the air, they are more than overwhelmed by some stunning bits of cinematography and shot composition. There is a sequence with De Niro and Pesci in the desert whose final shot is gorgeous.

De Niro and Pesci's performance do not disappoint, though once again doing mob characters -- this ain't Goodfellas West. The reason to watch Casino is Sharon Stone's stunning performance as the manipulative and emotionally and physically degenerating Ginger.

Casino is like celebrating the Fourth of July in a fireworks-free state. You get your hands on an M-80, with a real long fuse. And you light the fuse, and you wait for the inevitable BIG BANG. And the fuse burns down. And you wait. And the fuse b urns out and you wait but the M-80 doesn't explode. And you know you can't touch it because the second you do, the cracker will go off and take your hand with it. So you wait. By the time it explodes, all the fun has run out.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Casino, he would have paid . . .

$3.00

If a movie runs three hours, it better be worth sitting still for three hours. Casino isn't. The behemoth that is Casino gets a buck an hour from Cranky. More than fair. Chop it in half and it would be a killer of a movie (puns intended) worth twice the rating. As it stands, by the time the real story kicks in, your neck will be sore from looking down at your watch.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.