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2 items from 1999

Film review: 'Mickey Blue Eyes'

13 August 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

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.


Warner Bros.

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


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Film review: 'Analyze This'

22 February 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Unable to achieve a consistent tone, Harold Ramis' mobster comedy "Analyze This" has multiple personalities and hits the audience with a few fresh jokes but far too many 1970s mafia movie cliches. Despite an unattractive title and only a woefully underutilized Lisa Kudrow to attract younger moviegoers, the Warner Bros. wide release still shapes up as a likely boxoffice winner.

Glowing reviews and word-of-mouth from undemanding critics and audiences will revolve around the sometimes gutsy but often labored performances of leads Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal. Analyzing this shabbily tailored star vehicle, however, is not much fun.

Opening with a splashy prologue set in 1957, with New York gangster Paul Vitti (De Niro) narrating the story of an ill-fated meeting between organized crime's "big bosses," "Analyze" shifts to the present, when another underworld gathering has been called. Born and raised to lead his crime family, Vitti is a tough hombre, but he's having strangely vulnerable moments caused by the stress of taking over when his boss and mentor is gunned down.

With Vitti dodging real bullets during an explosive assassination scene, the film shifts breezily to the dreary therapy sessions of Ben Sobel (Crystal), a big-city psychiatrist with his own hang-ups. Decent and law-abiding but professionally unchallenged, Ben is divorced and about to remarry. Engaged to a Miami-based newscaster (Kudrow), he is out for a drive with the young son (Kyle Sabihy) from his first marriage when he rear-ends Vitti's limo.

Anxious to do the right thing, Ben insists on giving his business card to Vitti's bodyguard Jelly (Joe Viterelli), though it's clear the mobsters prefer to ignore the mishap. Soon after, Vitti seeks out the "head doctor" to deal with embarrassing emotional outbursts. While De Niro has a somewhat rough time shifting between macho mafioso and weepy sentimentalist, Crystal is more consistent as feisty Ben.

A few amusing, inspired sight gags keep one hoping that Ramis and crew will find an unpredictable approach and snappier rhythm, but schizoid storytelling undermines the project. Blackly humorous one moment -- Vitti ruins Ben's first attempt at marrying Kudrow's impatient airhead when a hitman is tossed from a hotel window -- and not above re-creating "The Godfather" shot-for-shot during one of Ben's violent dreams, "Analyze" invariably turns back to the offbeat chemistry between Crystal and De Niro.

Unfortunately, neither actor goes far enough with the premise's comic possibilities. De Niro's crying fits would be funnier if they were more convincing. Crystal seems to be holding back, though his frequent outbursts of indignation and defiance are the film's best moments. Chazz Palminteri plays Vitti's nemesis, but his performance is an even less interesting caricature than De Niro's.


Warner Bros.

in association with Village Roadshow Pictures

and NPV Entertainment

A Baltimore/Spring Creek Pictures/Face/Tribeca production

Director: Harold Ramis

Producers: Paula Weinstein, Jane Rosenthal

Screenwriters: Peter Tolan, Harold Ramis, Kenneth Lonergan

Executive producers: Billy Crystal, Chris Brigham, Bruce Berman

Director of photography: Stuart Dryburgh

Production designer: Wynn Thomas

Editor: Christopher Tellefsen

Music: Howard Shore

Costume designer: Aude Bronson-Howard

Casting: Ellen Chenoweth, Laura Rosenthal



Paul Vitti: Robert De Niro

Ben Sobel: Billy Crystal

Laura MacNamara: Lisa Kudrow

Primo Sindone: Chazz Palminteri

Jelly: Joe Viterelli

Michael Sobel: Kyle Sabihy

Running time -- 103 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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