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TELEVISION REVIEW

In 'South Beach,' only Wahlberg makes the scene

Donnie Wahlberg plays a man with a secret in "Kings of South Beach."

Mark and Donnie Wahlberg may be the most talented acting siblings in Hollywood, alongside the Gyllenhaals and Matt and Kevin Dillon. Each of the Wahlberg brothers comes off quite differently on screen, with Mark as showy and extroverted as Donnie is recessive. But they share a naturalness that gives their performances texture, and they are believable playing either tender or tough. They rarely hit wrong notes, even when the script does.

And so it's a pleasure to watch Donnie Wahlberg work in "Kings of South Beach," a based-in-fact A&E movie that premieres tonight at 9. As a mysterious guy named Andy Burnett who befriended shady South Beach nightclub honcho Chris Troiano (Jason Gedrick) in the 1990s, Wahlberg is winningly sincere and yet sneaky. He hides his character -- I won't divulge his secret here, but it's pretty obvious -- and yet his performance isn't obscure or distant.

But Wahlberg is the only part of this movie that worked for me. The story is modeled after the interesting case of Chris Paciello, a punk who put South Beach on the club map and hung with A-listers such as Madonna and Jennifer Lopez before getting busted for roberry, racketeering, and murder. But the lazy, simplistic script plays more like an episode of a second-rate crime series, which is surprising, since it's by "Good Fellas" screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi. And the direction, by Tim Hunter, has no tension or menace, even while the story revolves around mobsters, thugs, FBI investigators, drugs, nightclubs, bouncers, and a car chase.

It doesn't help, either, that Wahlberg's former "Boomtown" costar, Gedrick, is miscast as Troiano , looking more like a Men's Health cover, and acting just as thinly. Between Pileggi's vague script and Gedrick's performance, we never really get to know Troiano, despite the fact that the movie chronicles his rise to It Boy status and then his fall from grace.

There are many scenes of Troiano and Burnett partying in clubs with women on their arms, but "Kings of South Beach" doesn't ever fully achieve the disco-cocaine atmosphere it's straining for. All the wild-night stuff feels staged. And when the movie aims for historical and cultural accuracy, it comes off like one of those true-crime series on E!, complete with silly re - creations. An actor who looks nothing like Andrew Cunanan appears briefly as the murderer of Gianni Versace, and an actress who hardly looks like Madonna shows up to hang out in Troiano's club. Like too much in this movie, they fail to convince.

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