"Jackie Collins' 'Lucky/Chances,' " a big fat six-hour NBC miniseries, combines two Collins novels in one sprawling saga. And this is a saga that knows how to sprawl. Many of the characters take turns sprawling too -- usually across each other's beds. Sometimes across each other.
Yes, it's not only sprawling, but sizzling. And all in a harmless, dopey, essentially sexless way. Collins, who writes novels about as often as some people mow the lawn, did her own adaptation for the miniseries, which NBC offers as counter-programming to the baseball playoffs on CBS.
"Lucky/Chances" airs tomorrow, Monday and Tuesday at 9 each night on Channel 4. It's not mouthwatering trash, but it is exceedingly eventful and stuffed with melodrama. In Part 2, the hero walks out of his casino only to see the body of his son thrown out of a car and into the gutter. Papa promptly collapses with a heart attack.
The hero, such as he is, is Gino Santangelo (Vincent Irizarry), a plucky tough cookie born on the wrong side of the tracks who eventually becomes rich enough to buy the tracks and the trains on them.
He's a gangster, sort of. For Gino, gangsterism is mainly a fashion statement. He never seems to break any laws or commit any crimes except for bootlegging during Prohibition, which is what he's doing when the story opens in 1933 -- hustling hooch for rich people's parties.
Gino balks loudly, however, when his creepy friend Enzio (smoky-voiced Michael Nader) suggests they branch out into the dope business. Gino and Enzio argue and bicker about this, and threaten each other like pro wrestlers between matches. Wrestlers tend to be on a slightly higher literary plane, however.
Although the two men go their separate ways, their paths crisscross frequently, as many, many paths in this film do. If it isn't the crissing, it's the crossing.
One day Lucky Luciano drives by in his roadster. "That's what I want!" Gino exclaims. "What?" asks his idiotically loyal friend Costa (Alan Rosenberg). "Everything!" Gino replies.
When Gino names his daughter Lucky, it's not clear if this is in homage to Mr. Luciano. But the relationship between Gino and Lucky becomes the focus of the miniseries. When the child grows up, at the end of Part 1, she turns into simmering sexpot Nicollette Sheridan, the main reason to tune in.
Sheridan has precisely the right credentials for the role and she doesn't mind displaying them.
The important thing to remember about Gino and Lucky is that they are mirror images. This is what you might call the theme of the piece, and it isn't hard to remember because Collins drills it into your skull with the persistence of a junior high school French teacher.
"You and your father -- you're exactly alike!" Costa tells Lucky in the opening scene.
"She's just like me when I was her age -- wild," Gino says of Lucky when she turns 17.
"She's a strong, impetuous kid," Gino informs his mistress in Part 3. "Kinda like me, I guess."
"I ain't no lady, Gino," Lucky barks at him in 1967. "I'm a Santangelo, just like you."
All right already! So they're alike! Big deal!
Gino opens a hotel in Las Vegas and Lucky eventually takes it over. Along the way there are a couple of interracial affairs and one interracial marriage (dealt with in a sensibly matter-of-fact way), three husbands for the not-so-aptly named Lucky, ruthless antics by the evil Enzio and a scandalous orgy in St. Tropez.
Actually, not that scandalous. All the orgygoers keep their clothes on. One man kisses a woman on her dress. Though there are plenty of bedroom scenes in the miniseries, by no means is the temperature turned up to new highs for TV sex. These people don't do the wild thing so much as the mild thing.
If there is a point to the story, it's that one can outrun one's past, but only with great difficulty. Carrie Jones (Anne-Marie Johnson) is addicted to drugs and prostitution in 1933 and rescued from the gutter by Gino, but Whitejack (Jimmy Skaggs), her junkie pimp, doesn't like that, and vengefully pursues her -- for the next 30 years!
In 1937, Bernard Dimes (David McCallum) asks Carrie, then his maid, to have dinner with him. She does -- eight years later. Lucky, meanwhile, has a mad crush on her father's chauffeur, Marco, but seven years pass before it is consummated. These are people with long memories and plenty of time on their hands.
Leaps through the years are labeled with little subtitles: "Four Years Later, 1951," or "Las Vegas, 1962." But just in case -- and perhaps as a service to viewers unable to read (why should that keep anyone from enjoying a Jackie Collins novel?) -- somebody in the cast always announces how many years have gone by, as when Costa says helpfully, "Gino, it's been 11 years since Maria's murder."
Maria is the mother of Lucky, Gino's first wife. She dies at the end of Part 1, her body floating on a raft in the family pool. It's a couple of hours and a decade or so later when it finally dawns on thick-skulled Gino that vengeful Enzio had something to do with her death.
One might say that films like this -- strong and glamorous women holding their own against virile and power-hungry men -- are obsessive in their predictability. But that's part of the formula: no surprises, no shocks, no upset apple carts.
"Welcome to Boredom Unlimited," says Olympia (Shawnee Smith) when roommate Lucky arrives at a posh Swiss school. Authors who write lines like that risk having them used against them. But "Lucky/Chances" isn't Boredom Unlimited. No, it definitely has its limits.