He always wanted to be the center of attention. The most talked-about man in the room. The star.
More than 20 years later, San Diego-born serial killer Andrew Cunanan is getting his wish. Again.
The stage where Cunanan struts and vamps is “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” the sumptuous and aggravating miniseries that debuts tonight on the FX network.
Don’t let the title fool you. The follow-up to 2016’s riveting “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” this installment is ostensibly about the colliding lives of famed designer Gianni Versace and Andrew Cunanan, the charming sociopath and gay hustler who stalked and killed him. But it is really all about Andrew.
In 1997, the boyish graduate of the prestigious Bishop’s School in La Jolla killed five men in a cross-country spree that ended when he gunned down Versace at the gates of the designer’s Miami Beach mansion on July 15.
Fashion designer Gianni Versace was gunned down by Andrew Cunanan in front of Verace’s Ocean Drive estate July 1997.(Associated Press)
Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace.(Jeff Daly / FX)
Serial killer Andrew Cunanan of San Diego fatally shot Gianni Versace and was responsible for four other deaths during a cross-country spree.(AP)
Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.”(Jeff Daly / FX)
Antonio D’Amico was the partner of Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace. In this photo, D’Amico attended the memorial service for Versace inside Milan’s gothic cathedral.(Luca Bruno / AP)
Latin singer Ricky Martin plays Antonio D’Amico.(Jeff Daly / FX)
Donatella Versace was the sister of Gianni Versace.
(Victor Boyko / Getty Images for GQ)
Penelope Cruz as Donatella Versace.(Jeff Daly / AP)
A young Andrew Cunanan with his father Modesto Cunanan.(AP)
Jon Jon Briones plays Andrew Cunanan’s father Modesto.(FX / Courtesy)
Andrew Cunanan’s murder victims Gianni Versace, David Madson, Lee Miglin (center), William Reese and Jeffrey Trail are shown in these photos from files.(AP)
Mike Farrell plays Lee Miglin, a Chicago real estate developer who was one of Andrew Cunanan’s victims.(FX / Courtesy)
Marilyn Miglin (center) was the widow of Chicago real estate developer Lee Miglin, who was killed by Andrew Cunanan.(Chris Walker / AP)
Judith Light portrays Marilyn Miglin.(FX / Courtesy)
Police found Cunanan three days later on a houseboat just a few miles from Versace’s home. He had killed himself, using the same type of gun he used on three of his victims.
How did a smart, charismatic private-school kid become a serial killer? Why did he target Versace? How did he manage to hide in plain sight, strolling the streets of Miami Beach while he was on the FBI’s list of the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives?
Those were the questions everyone was asking in 1997, and as you begin making your way through the nine-part “Gianni Versace,” you might find yourself wondering if the series is going to answer any of them. Sometimes it does. Most of the time, it doesn’t.
First, the good news. As he did in “The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” series executive producer Ryan Murphy populates his true-crime stage with truly terrific actors.
In a gripping performance, former “Glee” star Darren Criss plays Andrew Cunanan as a cunning chameleon who knows how to be the person friends and potential lovers want him to be, until he doesn’t need them anymore. And then the charm curdles into something dark and deadly.
Because the story revolves around Cunanan, no one gets as much screen time as Criss, but his co-stars make the best of the smaller, but still juicy parts they’ve been given.
Edgar Ramírez paints a subtle portrait of Versace as a mournful genius who lives for beauty, and after a rough patch in the earlier episodes, Penelope Cruz brings empathy and depth to Versace’s younger sister, Donatella.
And definitely keep an eye out for “New Girl” star Max Greenfield (unrecognizable as Cunanan’s drifter pal, Ronnie); “MASH” favorite Mike Farrell as the doomed Chicago developer Lee Miglin; and Michael Nouri as Norman Blachford, the La Jolla millionaire who shared a beachfront home with Cunanan.
But all of this talent is in the service of a show that does not have the big-picture sweep or the gut impact of “The People vs. O.J. Simpson.”
Based on Maureen Orth’s book, “Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History,” the Versace series wants to be about a lot of things. It wants to take on the allure of fame (which Cunanan wants but doesn’t want to work for); the danger of closeted homosexuality (one episode is called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”); and assorted epic law-enforcement fails. But like the fashion magazines Andrew is always poring over, the series never gets much beyond the surface of anything.
A big part of this is due to the series’ self-defeating structure, which starts with the Versace shooting then moves backwards. Back through Cunanan’s murder spree and San Diego social climbing, until we finally get to the eighth episode and the lying, embezzling, abusive father who was the well-dressed role model for the psychopath Cunanan would become.
By that time, you may not care anymore. If you watch “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” for the acting and the snippets of San Diego scenery, you will be diverted. Expect anything more, and you’ll want to charge FX for stealing your time. This “Crime Story” should come wrapped in caution tape.