Times Television Critic

Nearly everyone in NBC's "Crime Story" wears black hats, suits and ties and looks like the Blues Brothers.

This is the latest from Hollywood's biggest bazooka, producer/director Michael Mann, who this time seems as much inspired by "The Untouchables" as the unshavables on his own "Miami Vice."

Tonight's ultraviolent two-hour "sneak preview" at 9 p.m. on Channels 4, 36 and 39 introduces us to Lt. Mike Torello (Dennis Farina), head of a major crime-fighting police unit in Chicago during the 1960s. A semi-serial, "Crime Story" will later shift locales to Las Vegas of the 1970s.

The premiere--to be followed by additional "sneak previews" at 10 p.m. Friday and Sept. 26 before "Crime Story" starts airing at 9 p.m. Tuesdays--is mostly long and loathsome. It's written by Chuck Adamson and David Burke and directed by Abel Ferrara.

Torello and his unit investigate a series of robberies instigated by a hot-headed young hood whose parents are friends of Torello. Part of the time, though, it's hard telling the cops from the crooks, and in one particularly far-out sequence, Torello and his boys wear black hoods and abduct a powerful mobster, just to terrorize him.

"Crime Story" follows the Mann pattern of being heavy on mood and rock music--and gratuitous violence and corpses. The episode's 68 gunshots (including 14 shotgun blasts) yield 11 deaths, many coming in a wild, appalling cops-and-robbers shoot-out inside a packed department store. There are also multiple beatings and threats.

The premiere has some positive elements, too.

In some ways, Torello is an interesting, textured, intensely human character. A captive of his emotions, he's no angel--roughing up people, perjuring himself in court, fooling around on his wife Julie (Darlanne Fluegel). In fact, their few scenes together are especially intriguing, conveying a tense, eroding relationship whose collapse seems almost inevitable.

Moreover, Farina, a real-life former cop with a featured role in Mann's current theatrical movie, "Manhunter," has enormous, convincing presence as the volatile, hair-trigger Torello. His rugged face looks like a crime story.

Also persuasive is Anthony Denison as thugdom's murderous Ray Luca, whose rise in organized crime will continue to be Torello's obsession in coming episodes.

Apparently sensitive about the shoot-'em-up premiere, NBC promises that "Crime Story" thereafter becomes a "people story." A live people story, presumably.

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