The 1991 biopic Bugsy posits notorious mobster Ben "Don't Call Me 'Bugsy'" Siegel as the original metrosexual, a strutting, impeccably dressed peacock with a diligently preserved perma-tan worthy of George Hamilton. A charismatic East Coast hood with big dreams, he thinks of himself as a dashing, womanizing Hollywood matinee idol. In other words, Bugsy finds a lovingly lit Warren Beatty playing a cold-blooded murderer who would love to be Warren Beatty.
Bugsy centers on an extended West Coast sojourn during which Beatty's starstruck mobster falls in love with a feisty extra/moll played by Annette Bening, mingles with movie stars (including Joe Mantegna's George Raft) and hatches a historic plan to transform Las Vegas from a sleepy, sand-choked backwater into an international entertainment Mecca. Screenwriter James Toback (Fingers) conceives the title character as a lusty aesthete as well as a violent brute. Beatty's charm is legendary, but explosive rage proves a little out of his genial range; when the actor interrupts a vicious beating to fix his hair, the violence is less jarring than watching Beatty's impeccable hairdo get mussed.
Toback originally conceived Bugsy as a directorial vehicle for himself, and his Oscar-nominated script explores many of his pet themes, from the shadowy intersection of dirty money and respectable society to gambling to sexual obsession. Producer Beatty, who has a habit of favoring filmmakers he can dominate, instead chose the more commercially viable Barry Levinson as director. The resulting film boasts a strange but often compelling tension between Toback's uncompromising, iconoclastic ethos and the glossy demands of big-budget Hollywood prestige filmmaking. Like Martin Scorsese's similarly conflicted biopic The Aviator, Bugsy is part tormented character study, part old-school Hollywood glitz. Its fabulist protagonist acts like he's stuck in a '30s gangster melodrama, but Levinson's lushly stylized film gives his story the A-list treatment. Though Bugsy suffers a bit from epic bloat, especially in an extended cut that tacks on 15 minutes, Toback's obsessions undercut the free-floating glamour with refreshing grittiness.
Key features: Deleted scenes and the alternately revelatory and annoying behind-the-scenes doc called "Road To Damascus: The Reinvention Of Bugsy Siegel."