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My Cousin Vinny (1992) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • Bill Gambini and Stanley Rothenstein are two friends from New York University who just received scholarships to UCLA. They decide to drive through the South. Once they arrive in Alabama, they stop at a local convenience store to pick up a few snacks. But, no sooner than they leave the store, they are arrested. They had thought that they were arrested for shoplifting, but they were arrested for murder and robbery. Worse, they are facing execution for this crime. Bill and Stan do not have enough money for a lawyer, so the good news is that Bill has a lawyer in his family, his cousin, Vincent Laguardia Gambini. The bad news is that Vinny is an inexperienced lawyer who has not been at a trial. So, Vinny has to defend his clients and battle an uncompromising judge, some tough locals, and even his fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito, who just does not know when to shut up, to prove his clients' innocence. But he will soon realize that he is going to need help.

  • Two teenage boys from New York are travelling down south when a series of coincidences lands them in jail charged with first degree murder. They can't afford the $50K for an attorney so they call the lawyer cousin of one of the boys. Vinny is a stereotypical New Yorker who is initially a complete disaster, but can he get them off the hook ?

  • While heading for college, Bill and Stan are arrested in Alabama when circumstances point to them as having murdered a convenience store clerk. Unable to afford an attorney, they turn to Bill's cousin Vinny, a brash New Yorker who took six tries to pass his bar exam. Worse, until now he's only taken personal injury cases, none of which have gone to trial. Dragging along his even more abrasive fiancee Mona Lisa Vito, Vinny will have to straighten up fast, and keep out of jail himself, if he's going to win the case.

  • Two New Yorkers are accused of murder in rural Alabama while on their way back to college, and one of their cousins--an inexperienced, loudmouth lawyer not accustomed to Southern rules and manners--comes in to defend them.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • While driving through the fictional Beechum County, Alabama, New Yorkers Billy Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and his friend Stan Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield) accidentally neglect to pay for a can of tuna after stopping at a convenience store. After they leave the store, the clerk is shot and killed off-camera, and Billy and Stan, who match the descriptions of the murderers given by witnesses, are then pulled over and detained in connection with the murder. Due to circumstantial evidence and a series of miscommunications based on the boys assumption that they have merely been detained for shoplifting, Billy ends up being charged with murder, and Stan is charged as an accessory.

    The pair call Billy's mother, who tells her son that there is an attorney in the family, Billy's cousin, Vincent LaGuardia "Vinny" Gambini (Joe Pesci), who travels to Beechum County accompanied by his fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei). Unfortunately, although he is willing to take the case, Vinny reveals himself to be a neophyte personal injury lawyer from Brooklyn, New York, newly admitted to the bar (after six attempts and six years) with no trial experience whatsoever.

    Although Vinny manages to fool the uptight and conservative trial judge, Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne), about being experienced enough to take the case, his ignorance of basic court procedures and abrasive, disrespectful attitude towards the judge gets him into trouble immediately. During the arraignment, Vinny has no idea what he's supposed to do and angers Judge Haller with his ignorance of whether or not to plead "guilty" or "not guilty" for Stan and Billy.

    The next day, Vinny's ignorance and inexperience causes more harm, much to Billy and Stan's consternation. Vinny does not even bother to cross-examine any of the witnesses in the probable cause hearing. As their claims go unquestioned, it appears that the stuffy prosecutor, District Attorney Jim Trotter III (Lane Smith), has an airtight case that will inevitably lead to a conviction at the trial. After Vinny's poor showing at the hearing, Billy and Stan decide to fire him and use the public defender, but Vinny asks for one more chance to prove himself.

    After several weeks of preparation, the trial then opens with Vinny representing his cousin and the public defender representing Stan. Despite some further missteps, including wearing a gaudy secondhand suit to court (as his new suit fell in the mud) and sleeping through Trotter's opening statement, Vinny shows that he can make up for his ignorance and inexperience with an aggressive, perceptive questioning style. While the public defender stutters through a line of ill-prepared questions that appears to bolster the case against the boys, Vinny quickly and comprehensively puts into question the testimony of the first witness Sam Tipton (Maury Chaykin) who testifies seeing Bill and Stan arrive at the Sac-O-Suds parking lot before he started cooking his breakfast grits and saw them flee from the scene after hearing a gunshot. Vinny is able to show that 20 minutes had actually passed between those two events, not the five minutes that Tipton claims, thus opening the door to the idea that there may have been two cars involved. Billy's faith is rewarded, and Stan develops newfound respect and confidence for Vinny, firing the public defender.

    The next day, Vinny's cross-examinations of the remaining eyewitnesses are similarly effective. The elderly Mrs Riley (Paulene Myers)'s testimony becomes suspect because she could not identify how many fingers Vinny was holding up at half the distance she had been from the getaway car. Redneck Ernie Crane's (Raynor Scheine) testimony is made to question his own identification of the "two men in a green convertible" when he was forced to realize that he had made it looking through a dirty window, crud covered screen, a bunch of leaf-covered trees, and seven bushes.

    But on the third day of the trial, Trotter produces a surprise witness, George Wilbur, an FBI analyst who testifies that his chemical analysis of the tire marks left at the crime scene shows that they are identical to the tires on Billy's Buick Skylark. With only a brief recess to prepare his cross-examination and unable to come up with a particularly strong line of questions, Vinny becomes frustrated and lashes out at Lisa by taunting her about the usefulness of her wide-angle photographs of the tire tracks. She storms out, leaving Vinny alone.

    However, Vinny later realizes that that photo actually holds the key to the case: the flat and even tire marks going over the kerb reveal that Billy's car could not have been used for the getaway (The Buick had an axle that connected the two wheels, and would make a tilted, not flat, impression of the lower tire when going over the kerb. The tire marks are both flat, revealing the car that made the marks had an independent wheel suspension system.) Vinny needs Lisa, an expert in automobiles, to testify to this. He drags her into court, and during Vinny's questioning, they patch up their differences. Vinny then recalls the FBI analyst, who concurs with Lisa that Billy's car did not produce the tracks.

    Next, Vinny calls the local sheriff, who has run a records check at Vinny's request. The sheriff testifies that two men resembling Billy and Stan were arrested a few days earlier in Georgia for driving a stolen Pontiac Tempest, a car very similar in appearance and color to Billy's Buick Skylark, and in possession of a gun of the same caliber used to kill the clerk. Trotter then respectfully moves to dismiss all the charges.

    Throughout the film, Vinny and Judge Haller play a game of cat-and-mouse over Vinny's qualifications. Haller first discovers that, despite Vinny's claims that he tried "quite a few" murder cases, there exist no records of anybody named Vincent Gambini trying any case in New York State. Aware that Judge Haller will not let him be Stan and Billy's legal council if he finds Vinny to be inexperienced, Vinny then begins a series of lies by claiming that he had his name changed during a previous career as a stage actor and continued to use the name when he opened a law practice. Vinny, believing that he should give the judge the name of someone with the kind of resume he claimed to have, supplies the name of a prominent New York attorney, Jerry Gallo. Unfortunately, Lisa later tells Vinny that Gallo passed away the previous week, and when Haller learns this, Vinny claims that Haller misheard "Gallo" when Vinny actually said "Callo". Finally, Lisa gets Vinny off the hook by calling his mentor, Judge Malloy from New York, who responds to Haller's request by claiming that 'Jerry Callo' has a long and impressive trial history.

    The film concludes with Haller apologizing for doubting Vinny and praising his skills as a litigator. Vinny and Lisa then drive off together, discussing how they were able to fool the judge about Vinny's qualifications and arguing about plans for their wedding.

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