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Showtimes Bonanno Touts Family Values

7/18/1999 8:00 PM Eastern

A two-part Showtime miniseries, Bonanno: A Godfather's
Story
, is a well-produced, expensive-looking saga about a real-life Mafia boss.

The trouble is, despite being based on a real person's
recollections, the basic story was done better in The Godfather and its sequel, in
which the actors also were far more charismatic.

But since it doesn't appear that there will be a Godfather
IV
, this will have to do.

Shot in Montreal and Sicily, the nearly five-hour movie
chronologically -- and very slowly -- winds its way through Joe Bonanno's long life and 40
years as a mob boss (he's now 94).

Few in the large cast get more than what amounts to cameos.
Even Martin Landau, as the frail patriarch, is on camera very briefly, with his main
function being to narrate the story.

That leaves Bruce Ramsay, who portrays Joe Bonanno from
ages 17 to 27 in part one -- which could be dubbed "The Early Years" -- and Tony
Nardi as Joe aged 35 to 61 in the second installment.

Of the two, Ramsay is the more captivating. But no one can
draw you in like Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro or Al Pacino.

Beyond the three Bonanno stars, only Edward James
Olmos as Salvatore Maranzano and Zachary Bennett as Joe's son, Bill, stand out from the
crowd.

The production credits list more than 200 roles -- so many
that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep all of the characters straight, especially
since many are portrayed by different actors in the second episode.

Also, the producers, including the real-life Bill Bonanno,
make the mistake of showing news footage of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F.
Kennedy, only to then show actors playing those roles -- actors who don't at all resemble
FDR or JFK.

But the biggest shortcoming in this saga -- based on the
Bonannos' books -- is Bonanno's attempts to convince viewers that he and his cohorts in
crime were "men of honor" who believed in "tradition" and in both
their own family and the Mafia family, even as they're slaying rivals (in some pretty
graphic scenes).

In the drama's most controversial section, Bonanno says the
mob helped to elect Kennedy, and that after he named his brother, Robert, as attorney
general to investigate "La Cosa Nostra," Mafia chiefs like Sam Giancana ordered
a JFK hit.

Bonanno will bow on Showtime at 8 p.m. July 25 and 26.

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