Drama Live By Night

“Live by Night” is barely breathing.

A slow, stubbornly serious period picture, it’s Ben Affleck’s attempt to bring back the old Warner Bros. gangster films, with him stepping in for Jimmy Cagney. It’s got Prohibition and speakeasies, flappers and Tommy guns.

It still shoots blanks.

Affleck, who also directed, plays the disgraced son of a Boston police chief. A strong-arm guy with a prison record, he takes it on the lam to Tampa, where he starts running rum for the Mafia.

And also takes up with a smuggler’s sister, while running afoul of a fire-and-brimstone lady preacher.

On paper, it sounds like there’s a lot going on here – “The Roaring Twenties” crossed with Al Pacino’s “Scarface” and a bit of “Elmer Gantry.”

On the screen, it’s a lot less.

Although Affleck’s been a decent director – capturing real local color in “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” building tension nicely in “Argo” – his work here is dim and dull. “Live by Night” may be about rum, but the pacing is like molasses.

And as its glum leading man, the star never shines. He has none of the lethal charm – or dangerous unpredictability – that would make a character like this worth watching. Instead of a mobster clawing his way to the top he’s a district manager, trying to boost third-quarter profits.

The Tampa setting is a novel one at least, and although Zoe Saldana isn’t much more than decorative as a lady smuggler, Chris Cooper adds craggy authority as a mostly honest lawman. And Elle Fanning is excellent as that revival-tent preacher.