Chris Troiano is the most successful businessman in South Beach, Florida. Coming from a poor childhood in New York City he is able to open the most popular dance club in the rising South Beach. When Andy, a doorman for Chris’ club becomes his right hand man, he begins to see many things happening behind the scenes involving crooked city workers and connections to the Russian mob.

The Lowdown

Chris Paciello was one of the most famous men in South Beach, Florida for many years. The trendy nightclubs he owned, Liquid and the Bar Room, were the hottest night spots in the country at the time. On any given night you could expect to see Madonna, Naomi Campbell or Jennifer Lopez in attendance. Named the greatest businessman in America, he was the true rags to riches story. Then one day, the entire city watched in shock when Paciello was arrested for racketeering, robbery and murder.

Kings of South Beach tells the story of the fall of Paciello. Jason Gedrick (Desperate Housewives) plays the character based on Paciello, renamed Chris Troiano. Donnie Wahlberg plays Andy Burnett, based on Andrew Dohler, the undercover agent that is sent in to bring him down.

The movie begins with a flashback to a robbery in New York that ends with the murder of a Russian housewife. We really don’t get a good glimpse at what is really happening there but then we switch to Andrew, also in New York City, being told it is time he got out of town. At this point the movie seems to turn into a retread of Miami Vice, with the bikini clad girls, fast cars, palm trees and hot dance music. The movie comes close to becoming a cheap television movie that could almost be a single episode of the classic television show. What brings the movie above that level is the acting involved.

Both Wahlberg and Gedrick bring their A-games and their performances keep the movie moving at a nice pace. Gedrick proves to be a quality leading man, and after over twenty years of small performances both on the big and small screen, he might finally be ready to step into the spotlight. Wahlberg continues to put up quality performances, building on a career that proves that, while he may not be as huge as his younger brother, he is still able to bring it as one of the better supporting actors working today.

The script could have used a little tightening as much time was devoted to themes that seemed to add to the character of Chris but added nothing to the overall plot. Scenes of Chris’ steroid use went nowhere and many smaller scenes showing his dislike of recreational drug use were contradicted by a comment that Ecstasy was allowed in his club to make the club kids happy. Much of the scenes with Chris seemed just to be added to show that he is not as bad as his criminal record indicated. Very little was shown of Andy outside of his undercover work, the film preferring to focus solely on Chris.

There are a few moments that seem to stand out, such as a montage sequence that switches from Chris at his posh mansion with a beautiful girl on his arm to Andy in his small apartment trying to watch a small TV with rabbit ears, but they appear to be added to show, in small clips, what could have been utilized as better character development. Scenes of Madonna showing up at the club and one too many shots of club kids dancing could have been struck from the script to allow room for better developing the arcs of the major characters.

The major problem lies in keeping us only in Chris’ shoes but making sure we know only as much as he tells Andy. If we are to be kept in the dark, as Andy is, we need to be seeing the story through Andy’s eyes throughout the movie. However, the filmmakers want us to remain with the more interesting character of Chris, and that makes the narrative seem disjointed and choppy. It is a scripting problem, but with the film focused on Chris and not Andy, we are left knowing much less than we should and the movie seems slight as a result.

The direction was pretty nice, although the quality of the picture went up and down in spots, many times in the same scene. The quality would go from crystal clear to grainy during a simple line of dialogue and it pulled me out of the movie momentarily. It is obvious it was made for television and the quality and production values were pretty low but the story and acting were both strong, offsetting many of the technical problems the film faced.

Despite the flaws of the film, it remained highly entertaining and told the amazing story of an amazing man. Small changes were made to the script, including the way he was captured at the end. In reality, Paciello recognized undercover officers in his club and snuck out the back door, driving off into the night. When the police called his cell phone, he simply told them he would meet them at his lawyer’s office. That might have been a better way to end the movie, but the final confrontation between Chris and Andy was done well.

Chris Paciello was a very complicated man in a very interesting situation and deserved a movie that would delve into the complexities that made him so notorious. He lived a life that included dating supermodel Niki Taylor and beginning the South Beach renaissance that would explode and bring many celebrities to the area. During this time, he created the hottest nightlife community in America. What resulted was this film, a very slight story dealing with the friendship Chris built with Andy that led to his eventual downfall. It is disappointing when you know the full story of the life of Chris Paciello, but it still proved to be an entertaining film worth a look.

The Package

The made-for-TV movie is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital and, while most the dialogue is clear and the music sounds good, it seems to change quality numerous times. It could have used a little more tender care in the editing suite. It was presented in widescreen (1:78:1) despite its television origons, but the picture quality suffers due to the filming restraints. There are no extras, save some previews for other movies.