The Rat Pack

  • 1998
  • Movie
  • R
  • Drama

Flashy, often ridiculous made-for-cable movie centered around the quintet of performers who ruled Las Vegas in the early 1960s. Gossip-mongering writ large, the film's biggest sin is that it's not so bad it's funny. Frank Sinatra (Ray Liotta) watches with fascination as charismatic politician John F. Kennedy (William Petersen) makes his bid for the Democratic...read more

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Flashy, often ridiculous made-for-cable movie centered around the quintet of performers who ruled Las Vegas in the early 1960s. Gossip-mongering writ large, the film's biggest sin is that it's not so bad it's funny.

Frank Sinatra (Ray Liotta) watches with fascination as charismatic politician John F. Kennedy (William Petersen) makes his bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Sinatra's entree into the Kennedy inner circle is an old acquaintance, actor Peter Lawford (Angus MacFadyen). Sinatra, Lawford,

and their show business compadres Dean Martin (Joe Mantegna), Sammy Davis Jr. (Don Cheadle), and Joey Bishop (Bobby Slayton) perform benefits for Kennedy's campaign once he clinches the nomination; the five performers develop into a tightly-knit clique dubbed "The Rat Pack" by the press. The Pack

finally work together professionally on a caper movie Sinatra produces called OCEAN'S ELEVEN (1960); simultaneous to the shooting of the movie, they undertake a nightly five-man gig at the Sands hotel, which they call "the Summit."

As the Presidential election looms, Sinatra finds that he has become beholden to the Kennedy family, especially JFK's father, Joe Kennedy (Dan O'Herlihy). Although he is informed that his attendance at the event will hurt Kennedy at the polls, Sinatra refuses to back out of serving as Best Man at

Davis's wedding to Swedish actress May Britt (Megan Dodds). Davis, seeing his friend's difficulties, postpones the wedding until after the election.

Soon after Kennedy wins the Presidency, he follows the advice of his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy (Zeljko Ivanek), and distances himself from Sinatra because of the singer's mob ties. Sinatra feels the heat from gangster Sam "Momo" Giancana (Robert Miranda), who had helped swing a

Presidential primary in Kennedy's favor at Sinatra's request. Giancana decides not to exact retribution against the singer. Kennedy, on the other hand, infuriates Sinatra by announcing that he will stay with him when he visits California, and--after the singer does major construction on his house

to accomodate the President--snubs him to stay with Bing Crosby, a noted Republican. The bad news is entrusted to Lawford; Sinatra never speaks to him again. The Pack drift apart as the "Camelot" era comes to a close.

THE RAT PACK has two central problems. First, screenwriter Kario Salem seems uncertain who the main character should be. One assumes that Sinatra will be singled out, given the film's prologue in which the aged Old Blue Eyes waits to go on stage alone, saying to himself "I miss my guys!" Instead,

Salem attempts a group-portait encompassing Sammy Davis Jr.'s crises of conscience, JFK's affairs with Marilyn Monroe and Judith Exner, and other related issues equally.

The film's second major problem becomes most apparent in the extended "Summit at the Sands" performance sequences. Each of the five actors operates at a different level of performance: Mantegna offers a cartoon version of Martin's public persona; Cheadle foresakes a Davis impression, instead

depicting the "man within" the glitzy star; Liotta affects some of Sinatra's mannerisms, but can't seem to tap into the lighter, "swingin'" side of his personality; MacFadyen does nothing to evoke Lawford, beyond a British accent; and standup comic Slayton offers a letter-perfect Bishop--which

does him little good, as Bishop is seen as a minor player in the events depicted here.

The central virtue of celebrity biopics--namely their laughability--is in short supply. Two scenes do qualify for the Hall of Shame: In one, Davis fantasizes that he's performing outside a nightclub for cross-burning Klansmen and rednecks (as a giant neon sign flashes the word "nigger" behind

him)--rarely do "message movies" reach this nadir of taste. Another sequence attempts to chronicle the nighttime activities of the Pack and their friends, panning past Sands hotel windows--various couplings are seen (Davis and May Britt, Frank with two women, Lawford admiring himself in a mirror

as he makes love), while the laidback Martin drinks milk and watches a western on TV. If the whole movie exhibited the same trashy sensibility, it could've become a cult favorite. As it stands, it's a washout, distinguished by a few good performances (Cheadle, Mantegna's comic work) and the fact

that the hedonism depicted may indeed make younger viewers check out the work of the real Pack. (Violence, sexual situations, nudity, profanity.)

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  • Released: 1998
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Flashy, often ridiculous made-for-cable movie centered around the quintet of performers who ruled Las Vegas in the early 1960s. Gossip-mongering writ large, the film's biggest sin is that it's not so bad it's funny. Frank Sinatra (Ray Liotta) watches with… (more)

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