"The Big Town" aims to be "The Hustler" with dice, but it's just a lot of craps -- a laughable, overlong look at a small-town gambler's comeuppance at the hands of Chicago's high rollers. Windier than the Windy City itself, this trumped-up, '50s-era coming-of-age melodrama has enough plot for "Der Ring des Nibelungen" and more posturing than rampside at a fashion show.
Matt Dillon heads the cast of compulsive camera-muggers, swaggering and shoulder-hunching his way through this pretentious and predictable folly. With his cantilevered pelvis, he doesn't look so much the bad hayseed as he does a jock itch poster boy. Granted, the one-time teen idol is hampered by his skimpy character -- the cardboard Cully, a Juicy Fruit-chewing crapshooter who is corrupted by Jack Daniel's, bad women and bright lights.
Cully shoots dice with colorful underworld folk, rattling Chicago's best bettors with his uncanny skill. His luck finally runs out when he bankrupts lumpy Tommy Lee Jones, playing the city's big dealer Cole, a crook who frames Cully to even the odds.
Meanwhile, Cully begins a flamboyant affair with Cole's wife Lorry, preposterously played by Diane Lane of "Lady Beware." Miscast as a stripteasing tramp, she seduces Cully by screaming at him hysterically. Excited beyond all reason, he jumps her on a bar top. It's one of those slam-bam huffer-puffers -- nasty, up-against-the-wall sex, the sort that keeps orthopedic surgeons in business. But these two don't generate enough real electricity for a night light.
They make complete nincompoops of themselves under the indifferent eye of Ben Bolt, who previously directed episodes of "L.A. Law" and "Hill Street Blues." He's primarily interested in evoking the era with set decoration, sound track and period costumes, virtually drowning the players in nostalgia, bad noir and anachronisms like Lorry's "My dad really put me through a bad scene." Bolt is still directing for couch potatoes who'll have to wait a week for the denouement of their favorite nighttime soap.
The Big Town, at area theaters, is rated R for its assorted sex scene.