DRAMA PREMIERE "Vegas"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 10 on CBS/2

REASON TO WATCH Commanding cast, vintage Rat Pack cool.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Onetime movie hottie Dennis Quaid has aged well into the craggy look of a Nevada rancher, circa 1960. And post-"Shield" star Michael Chiklis plays bad-dude like nobody's business. So when Chiklis' Windy City mobster hits Las Vegas, Quaid turns sheriff to ride herd on the neon blossoming of gambler nirvana.

The result is a brawny stew of fistfights and fashion, bikers and broads, corpses and car chases. And horse chases. And horse trading. And political corruption. Everybody's "dreaming big" in this (almost) lawless land.

MY SAY I'm starting to think CBS could turn "The Flying Nun" into a crime procedural. They've even imported Jason O'Mara for his "Life on Mars" cop cred, as Quaid's brother/deputy. Where a broad view of the swelling town's social evolution might be fascinating, all signs point to less character/culture study and more miscreant action met with square-jawed resolve by locals who don't cotton to crooks comin' to town.

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CBS' sustained level of series craftsmanship is certainly admirable -- their dramas all look sharp and function smoothly. But that doesn't go so far when even a sweeping period piece in a distinct locale with superior stars seems to roll off the same assembly line. Despite the desert vistas, "Vegas" feels disappointingly small.

BOTTOM LINE It's Las Vegas, for crying out loud. CBS couldn't roll the dice on something different?

GRADE B-