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Lifetime movie squanders talent, compelling story

With a title of a movie set in Las Vegas like "Sex and Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Scandal," one might think that Lifetime can't lose.

When you add a cast that includes Mena Suvari ("American Beauty"), Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden ("Pollock") and Matthew Modine, it looks even more like a sure thing.

But this movie -- which is loaded with flashbacks and airs at 9 p.m. Saturday on basic cable -- commits one unforgivable sin. It is boring. There's no greater sin for a TV movie, a form the broadcast networks have abandoned and Lifetime has had amazing success with recently.

With the nets basically having given up on Saturdays, "Sex and Lies" should hit the ratings jackpot even if it is such a creative disappointment. However, the content cried out for it to be made by a pay-cable network.

Suvari plays a stripper who becomes the live-in girlfriend of an outlandish Las Vegas casino owner, Ted Binion (Modine), and eventually is accused of murdering him with the help of her married boyfriend, Rich Tabish (Johnathon Schaech).

The accusations first come from Binion's sister, Becky Binion (Harden), who has a vested interest in getting her brother's lover out of the way of the family fortune.

The film is based on the book, "Murder in Sin City," by Jeff German. Unfortunately, the script can't decide if it is a pure drama or a drama with satiric elements.

Modine, who often plays the responsible type, plays an eccentric larger-than-life-character this time around. Binion wears a cowboy hat, pulls a gun at a family dinner, hides $7 million in silver in an underground vault and partakes in recreational drugs that initially led to the conclusion he died of an overdose.

His excesses mean he isn't the easiest rich guy to live with. He and his sister disagree about matters involving the family business, as well as personal things that are none of her business.

The two trials in the case are unsatisfactorily presented. Surely, they had to be more interesting, enlightening and even entertaining than the brief snippets played here.

In one of the trials, an actor playing Dr. Michael Baden -- the nationally recognized forensic pathologist who testified in the first O.J. Simpson case and was called in for his expertise in the Lynn DeJac case -- provides analysis that is vital to the case.

"You will find yourself dumbfounded why you are here," a defense attorney tells the jury in the second trial.

That sentence is relevant to TV viewers as well. This is the kind of story that would have been great fodder for a legal show like "Law & Order" or, even better, the more comical "Boston Legal." Additionally, a forensic science show like "CSI" (which, after all, is set in Vegas) could have done a more interesting job with the embarrassment of riches the case provided.

Speaking of embarrassments, the script chooses to use conversations between journalists to present several alternative and inconclusive theories about how Ted Binion died. The scenes are so stiffly played and presented -- it is reminiscent of a bad "Murder, She Wrote" ending -- that it almost is sinful. With all the talent wasted in "Sin City," this is one story that should have stayed in Vegas.

Review: 1 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

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Channel 2 news

As expected, the interim title has been removed from Channel 2's Jeff Woodard and he now is officially the station's new news director. He had been handling the role on an interim basis since Ellen Crook left to become the news director at another Gannett station in Atlanta.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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