``Sinatra'': Tina did it her way, and it's a real bore

TELEVISION REVIEW

November 06, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

"Sinatra" is Frank Sinatra without the soul. Executive Producer Tina Sinatra has managed the near impossible in this CBS miniseries about her father: With her reverential treatment, she's made one of the most fascinating figures in post-World War II America downright boring. Way to go, Tina.

"Sinatra," which begins Sunday night, has the feel of the video biographies of presidential candidates aired at national political conventions.

But while those myth-making pieces -- restricted to only the good and positive stuff -- never run more than 20 minutes or so, "Sinatra"goes on and on for five hours across two nights. By the time Frank has his first "innocent" meeting with gangster Sam Giancana (Rod Steiger) and that nasty Bobby Kennedy starts persecuting him, some viewers will be remembering what it was like listening to Julie Nixon talk about her father's innocence during Watergate.

Almost everyone over 40 knows the landmarks of Sinatra's life: Frank, the big-band crooner with the great Tommy Dorsey Band of the 1940s; Frank, the idol of screaming bobby-soxers at the Paramount Theatre in New York; Frank, the guy on the skids involved with sexy screen star Ava Gardner.

Then there's: Frank, who made the big comeback in "From Here to Eternity" and won an Oscar in the 1950s; Frank, the a-ring-a-ding-ding swinger, who formed the Rat Pack with Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin and defined male sexuality for many in the 1960s; Frank, the Palm Springs Republican and still singer of singers into the 1970s.

And it's all more or less there in the miniseries. But it's wrapped in the soft-focus, warm-and-fuzzy glow of an episode of "The Waltons." Even a scene showing Sinatra (Philip Casnoff) making a half-hearted attempt at suicide during one of his dark-nights-of-the-soul is structured to show the hero in a positive light.

What's missing are the edges, the craziness, sexiness, confusion, bravado, fear and rage. You can hear it all in Sinatra's voice when he sings -- but you won't see it here.

What you will see are lots of cliches and one-dimensional portrayals. Sinatra's childhood in Hoboken, N.J., is an urban, ethnic version of Norman Rockwell's small-town America. The film admits that Sinatra's mother, Dolly (Olympia Dukakis), performed illegal abortions. But her actions are cast in a way that makes her a heroine although she had no real training for performing abortions. And Sinatra's getting a teen-age girl pregnant is presented as just one of those things . . . scoobee, doobee, do.

And then there's the depiction of Tina's mother, Nancy (Gina Gershon). To say Nancy is seen through adoring eyes is to greatly understate the case. In Tina's telling, Nancy is beyond saintliness. The real Nancy, by the way, Tina said in an interview this summer, was always on the set and actually made some of the costumes, including one of the dresses for Marcia Gay Harden, the actress playing Gardner, the woman Sinatra left Nancy for. Where's Sigmund Freud when you need him?

Is there anything to recommend "Sinatra"? Well, the acting of Casnoff and Gershon is pretty good. And Casnoff lip-syncs well.

There is, however, nothing worse than a great method actor trying to make something out of a bad role, and Ms. Dukakis' Dolly Sinatra is one of the worst roles she's had to work on in a long time.

There are two genuinely terrific aspects to the miniseries: the photography and the music. The film generally looks and sounds great even at its worst. Most of the songs are sung by Sinatra, except for a few sung by Frank Sinatra Jr. and Tom Burlinson, an Australian sound-alike. You can tell the difference.

Sinatra singing "I Fall in Love Too Easily" and "I'm a Fool to Want You" are almost enough to recommend the miniseries for all its whitewashing and major flaws -- almost.

But CBS already has the soundtrack out on CD. Buy the soundtrack, skip the miniseries.

MINISERIES

WHAT: 'Sinatra'

WHEN: Sunday, 8 p.m., Tuesday 9 p.m.

WHERE: WBAL (Channel 11)

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