"You bring a bitch home, the dogs are gonna smell her when she's in heat."
Sony has released Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story, a 2008 Lifetime Movie Network docudrama directed by Peter Medak, and starring Matthew Modine, Mena Suvari, Marcia Gay Harden and Johnathon Schaech. Offering up several possible scenarios for the homicide of Ted Binion, the drugged-out Las Vegas casino manager and co-owner of the world-famous Binion's Horseshoe Casino who was murdered by someone in 1998, Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story looks a lot better than most of these Lifetime man-hatin' fests, but a longer running time - and some fleshed-out details and characters - would have been a help.
According to Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story, Ted Binion (Matthew Modine) meets Sandy Murphy (Mena Suvari) at Cheetah's, where the hot little blonde is working as a stripper and lap dancer. Playing hard-to-get with the money-waving blow-hard casino owner, Ted eventually wears down Sandy's resistance and makes her his live-in girlfriend - a fact that doesn't go down well with either his lawyer, Lou Sacco (Gary Moody), or Ted's hellcat sister, Becky (Marcia Gay Harden), who also owns a stake in the Horseshoe - and who can spot a little golddigger from a mile off. Life as the kept girlfriend of a multi-millionaire casino owner isn't without its drawbacks, though. Teddy is prone to violence and paranoia due to his increasingly debilitating heroin use, violence that is visited upon Sandy, and paranoia extended to everyone, including his sister, in the fear that someone will steal the 7 million dollars worth of silver bullion he has stashed away in the Horseshoe's vault. The construction of a new vault for the silver, located out in the middle of the desert, will bring handsome, hunky construction worker Rick Tabish (Johnathon Schaech) into the picture, forming a deadly triangle with Teddy and Sandy that leads to murder.
I vaguely remember the headlines about the Binion murder case back in '98, but anyone looking for a detailed look at the crime won't find it here in Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story. This is strictly interpretation and conjecture (particularly at the end, where various theories concerning Teddy's death are visualized), with lots of important facts left out of the snappy but essentially empty tale (such as Teddy's estranged wife and son, or Teddy's brother Jack, who was also involved in the investigation). It's difficult to discuss Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story in any great detail because there isn't a whole lot of "there" there to discuss. Anyone familiar with the usual roster of films offered on Lifetime Movie Network won't find anything out of the ordinary in the basic set-up (except for the look of the film, and the higher-caliber performers). I've always been an unabashed fan of the network; if you're looking for a crude, primal melodrama fix, you can't beat the man-walloping, pulpy sex-and-revenge-and-sex-and-murder-and-sex-and-sex offerings there. The cable melodrama may not be a form respected by most "TV critics" (yeech), but I find these tight, focused little dramas just what the doctor ordered: they're got an agenda to entertain you, and they don't stray from it, delivering the goods more times than not.
That being said, Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story looks a whole lot better than most of the quickly-shot dramas that show up on LMN. Director Peter Medak, who easily swings between film and TV with such offerings as The Ruling Class and The Krays, to Beauty and the Beast and the schlocky TV classic, The Babysitter, offers a simple but dynamic style that suits this material quite well, moving the camera in assured dollies while blocking the performers in a sensible, unpretentious manner. Aided by one of the best cinematographers in the business, Anthony Richmond (Don't Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth), Medak gives a scintillating widescreen look to Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story that resembles big-screen fare, rather than cable-ready. As well, Medak knows how to let his actors loosen up a bit (Modine and Hardin in particular have a rowdy time as the drug-inhaling Teddy and his gun-totin' sister Becky) while keeping the performances believable. Medak and screenwriter Teena Booth (the excellent 2006 cable movie, A Little Thing Called Murder) obviously come down on the side of Sandy being at least culpable in the murder of Teddy (Medak spells that out right at the beginning, showing Sandy returning to Teddy's house, unemotional as she sees the body, only to work herself up into a "performance" for the cops), but he keeps the performances ambiguous enough to make the final multiple-endings believable.
Unfortunately, while Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story looks better than most LMN films, it sports a curious lack of the necessary down-and-dirty action that identifies 99% of the films on that cable network. Perhaps because of the higher-wattage stars involved here, skin and some discreet cable-safe humping are non-existent, although Suvari has a very nice moment at the beginning of the film where she dresses up as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader for her too-short non-stripping striptease (her subsequent lap dance, however, needs work). Was Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story intended for the big screen, with the sex whittled down for cable viewing? It's possible, I suppose. Certainly the choppiness of the storyline suggests that the original cut of the film may have run significantly longer than this 90-minute version, what with time-lines within the story moving quickly through the years, and major characters coming and going without the slightest bit of explanation as to who they are, or what they mean to the story. The most egregious example of this fluttery exposition is the Ian Miller character (played by the always-welcome Peter Haskell), whom we're told owns half the mines in Nevada, and who develops some kind of relationship with Sandy - but who never gets a scene of his own, and whom we're never told how, exactly, he fits in with any of the rest of the story. Very odd. Other subplots looked like they may have been more developed at one point, as well (the Evan James reporter character, played by Arron Shiver), but were dropped or chopped in the final edit. And that's too bad, because with another hour of running time - and a little more graphic detail, Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story had the potential to be a fairly interesting miniseries on this subject.
Sporting an anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 widescreen transfer, low-budget, low-profile Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story gets better treatment on this disc than some A-list titles I've seen this year. The widescreen image is flawlessly authored here, with a razor-sharp picture, correct colors, and no compression issues. Beautiful picture.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio mix also puts Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story well above most discs in this category. Separation effects are minimal, but the music soundtrack gets a workout, and all dialogue is cleanly and crisply heard. English and French subtitles are included, along with close-captions.
There are no extras for Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story.
What could have been a real winner in the docudrama miniseries category, comes out a bit choppy and vague at times here in Peter Medak's Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story. Not nearly enough detail about the actual crime, nor depth of characterization, combined with a curiously tame treatment of a decidedly lurid love triangle and murder, hobble Sex & Lies in Sin City: The Ted Binion Story before it gets out of the gate. All the ingredients are here for a potentially top-flight mini, but the short running time hurts it in the end. Advising someone to rent this disc is about the best I can do, but even that seems questionable, when the show airs on Lifetime Movie Network frequently (it just aired last week, for that matter).
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.