This has certainly been the year for a new approach to mafia stories, with "Analyze This" and HBO's "The Sopranos" scoring well with audiences and critics alike. Now comes comedy "Mickey Blue Eyes", a routine Hugh Grant vehicle that fails to measure up to its two predecessors. This Warner Bros. release from Castle Rock should prove a good test of Grant's boxoffice appeal, since at the end of the day that is what's going to pull in audiences for this film.
There are, to be sure, fine performances from veterans James Caan
and Burt Young
to give backbone to a limp screenplay. But the laughs dry up early, and the script's structural shortcomings prove a drag on the fun that should have accompanied this fish-out-of-water tale.
When Grant, an Englishman who runs a New York auction house, proposes to Jeanne Tripplehorn
, his girlfriend of three months, he discovers he's marrying into the mob. Early on, the film gets comic mileage out of the introductions of various family members, all straight out of "The Godfather".
Indeed "Godfather" star Caan plays Tripplehorn's father, all charm to mask his malignant side. Young, outfitted with huge, Coke-bottle glasses, is an underworld boss who seizes upon the auction-house business as a unique way to launder mob money.
Others come up to shake Grant's already shaking hand: Paul Lazar
, his fiancee's odd brother; John Ventimiglia
, Young's hot-tempered son; Joe Viterelli
, who has built a career playing mafia henchmen; and other back-pounding family members and humorless FBI agents.
But it becomes swiftly apparent that these characters, drawn from other movies, will never find a home in this film. "Mickey Blue Eyes" never enters into their lives to learn what a 1999 gangster is like. Adam Scheinman
and Robert Kuhn's screenplay is content to leave the characters as mere parodies of people encountered in 25-year-old movies.
Once the introductions are over, Scheinman and Kuhn search desperately for a story to tell. But the one they come up with relies so heavily on contrivance and coincidence that even the most forgiving audience member is going to notice those gaping plot holes.
And while murder, torture and vengeance can and have been a source of comedy in many films, young Canadian director Kelly Makin
("Brain Candy") is unable to find the right tone to convey much humor in this movie's ruthless malevolence. Instead, he depends on a soundtrack lifted virtually intact from wonderful Italian-American comedy "Big Night" to convince us that this mafia family is whimsically grotesque.
Further compromising the film is Grant's unwillingness to explore the central character beyond the superficial acting techniques he brings to all his recent comedy parts. If there is any difference between his approach to this role and his work in "Notting Hill" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral", it is undetectable to the naked eye.
Tripplehorn is left out of the picture for long stretches, so she has little impact. James Fox, as the auction-house owner, is often amusing but is also underutilized. Caan comes off best, investing a shallowly written character with a vulnerability and caring spirit despite his tough-guy exterior.
MICKEY BLUE EYES
Castle Rock Entertainment
Presents a Simian Films Prod.
Producers: Elizabeth Hurley, Charles Mulvehill
Director: Kelly Makin
Writers: Adam Scheinman
, Robert Kuhn
Director of Photography: Donald E. Thorin
Production Design: Gregory P. Keen
Music: Basil Poledouris
Costume design: Ellen Mirojnick
Editor: David Freeman
Michael Felgate: Hugh Grant
Frank Vitale: James Caan
Gina Vitale: Jeanne Tripplehorn
Vito Graziosi: Burt Young
Philip Cromwell: James Fox
Vinnie: Joe Viterelli
Agent Connell: Gerry Becker
Carol: Maddie Corman
Running time -- 103 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13