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Rat Pack, The/C+,B-

HBO/1998/120m/FS 1.33

     Chronicling the reign of Frank Sinatra as king of The Rat Pack, the film is casually episodic in depicting the lives of the various members of Sinatra’s inner circle. Rumors are brought to life in short sketches. Dean Martin’s addiction to television is suggested by several scenes, but if you don’t know the rumors that Martin became a recluse before the tube in his late years it’s probably meaningless. You get a taste of the White House and the Kennedy brothers as well as one-dimensional portrait of patriarch Joe Kennedy. Sammy Davis, Jr.’s personal life is restricted to his marriage to Swedish actress May Britt, and Peter Lawford is depicted as a weak twit at the beck and call of Sinatra on one hand and the Kennedy clan on the other. Joey Bishop is given some brief moments of humor.
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The pack stumps for KennedyİHBO

     Casting choices are the chief virtues and failures of The Rat Pack. Ray Liotta plays Sinatra with fair intensity, but he looks uncomfortable in the skin of a man who defined the ultimate cool for a generation of would-be swingers. Liotta fails to find any charm in Sinatra the man. The question this film might have answered is why these men were drawn to Sinatra as they were, and again, Liotta is not able to give us a clue, whether from script or character interpretation. Probably the best of the impersonations is by Joe Mantegna playing Dean Martin. Mantegna sips apple juice pretending its scotch, drinks milk in front of the television while other rat-packers are bedding down beautiful woman, and finds the perfect stage mannerisms for Dino in the performance sequences. Bravo Joe! Don Cheadle continues to show audiences incredible range. Cheadle makes a credible Sammy Davis. He dances, swings, and with fine make-up, even looks a lot like the likable singer/dancer. In the important role of Peter Lawford, Angus falls far short with an inconsistent and unconvincing accent. Lawford’s weakling is a tough role, but at least MaFadyen gets one great line "I just want to act—and cheat on my wife." And in the role of John F. Kennedy, William Petersen does nothing to suggest the incredible charisma of the former late President.
     Made to premiere on HBO, The Rat Pack has reasonable production values. Director Rob Cohen sets the scenes well and captures some of the glitter of Vegas. Maybe there’s a shot too many of the Sands marquee, but Cohen wants to remind up of the venue and the names. Cohen tries hard to give the biopic some infusion of energy but pumped up music between cuts adds little. Cohen is working with a major obstacle in his path. None of the singing is by the original artists and this definitely drops The Rat Pack down more than a peg or two. Cohen also makes one huge mistake by drifting off into a Sammy Davis fantasy number when protesters of his pending marriage to Britt picket his Washington appearance.
     The DVD is composed for 1.33 in sharp images. The lighting falls short on the performance scenes pushing the bright white of shirts into blue blooming. Otherwise color is stable and contrast ratio adequate. The Dolby Digital 2-Channel surround is cleanly recorded, and the songs sound okay, but they ain’t Sinatra.