Nothing jolts American cinema as intensely as gangsters. It's an intoxication that began in 1931 with Little Caesar and The Public Enemy. (The original Scarface would be in the group, too, but censorship squabbles kept it out of theaters for more than a year.)
TV has been similarly consumed with crime kingpins since The Untouchables in 1959. The appeal obviously is evergreen. NBC is currently developing a mini-series about Eliot Ness.
Mob City, on TNT, sets a new level of synchronicity: It uses the same setting and some of the same historical characters as Gangster Squad, which was in theaters this year.
Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) stars as a former Marine sergeant, now an LAPD detective who is recruited as part of a departmental task force to stop gangsters like Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke) and Bugsy Siegel (Ed Burns).
It's 1947. Tough guys wear hats like helmets and nylon-stockinged dames give new meaning to the word sultry. Everybody chain-smokes.
Mob City, a mini-series that spreads its six hours over three consecutive Wednesdays, has a distinguished cast, including Robert Knepper, Gregory Itzin, Milo Ventimiglia, and Alexa Davalos. And its hyper-stylized noirish look is smashing. Cool music, too, from Mark Isham.
But the hard-boiled dialogue, which is supposed to evoke Raymond Chandler, instead sounds more like bad Dragnet. With one notable exception: Simon Pegg makes an odd guest appearance in the pilot and is rewarded with a ringing soliloquy worthy of Budd Schulberg.
The violence in Mob City is almost gleefully graphic, and the plot, about a blackmail case gone sideways, is a mess.
What this project has, almost excessively, is mood. It should have traded in some of that rich ambience for a story that's halfway involving.
I'll watch every installment, but mostly to ogle those crazy vintage automobiles.
Wednesday at 9 p.m. on TNT