(US 1999) Rated PG-13
Hugh Grant, Jeanne Tripplehorn, James Caan, James Fox, Burt Young
Directed by Kelly Makin
Warner Bros * 102 minutes
Italian-Americans are perhaps the last ethnic group that can be played stereotypically for laughs without anyone organizing a march or boycott. Cuddly Sicilian mobsters can always be relied upon for a cheap laugh, and if you create a film using any of the dozen or so stock actors who are making a career of playing goodfellas, you're guaranteed a film with at least a one or two guffaws in it. And that's just about what you get from MICKEY BLUE EYES.
It's the "fish out of water" pitch: Let's take a fussy, effete, foppish, moderately witty, stuttering, eyelash-batting English guy and have him fall in love with a mobster's daughter. Then watch him deal with her family.
The stuttering fop, Michael Felgate (played by who else but Hugh Grant), runs an auction house in New York, and is madly in love with Gina Vitale after only three months. After stutteringly mustering his courage, he proposes marriage, only to be rebuffed because Gina knows that sooner or later, any man who marries her will become part of her father's inner circle.
The clueless Michael inadvertently does just that, helping to launder Mob money through his auction house. He becomes an accessory to murder, and (mercifully) briefly, passes himself off as Kansas City mobster Mickey Blue Eyes.
The biggest problem with MICKEY BLUE EYES isn't that it's not funny, it's that it's a pathetically bad movie, relying on cheap laughs related to stock gangster cliches, offensive ethnic humor, and embarrassing sexual gags instead of wit. That it still manages to elicit some laughs -- more so from the rest of the audience in the theatre I attended than from Your Humble Critic, is far more a mark of the End of Civilization As We Know It than either SOUTH PARK or AMERICAN PIE.
Hugh Grant is the least of this film's problems. I actually hated him less in this film than I did in NOTTING HILL, even though the thought of sitting through not just one but two Hugh Grant vehicles in one summer made my blood run cold. It's clear that the script was written, or at the very least, adapted to allow him to poke fun at his emasculated, fluttery self with lines such as (spoken into a pocket recorder) "Note: Call Better Business Bureau. Other note: seek lost testicles." Even his mincing, British-fey running style is parodied. And yet, his customary bewilderment, accompanied by his trademark eyelash-batting and stuttering, is somewhat less annoying than usual. Grant is a romantic comedy actor in a very British way, and as long as he's relying on verbal wit, he's fine. When he has to resort to slapstick-type sight gags, such as an embarrassing scene in which he uses vulgar sexual gestures to distract his girlfriend from the presence of a painting of Jesus with a shotgun that he's forced to sell, he's utterly abysmal. His scenes as "Mickey Blue Eyes", a Kansas City gangster, are so embarrassingly bad they're literally painful to watch.
A romantic comedy is completely dependent on chemistry between the two leads, and there has rarely been an actress less capable of eliciting a chemical reaction than Jeanne Tripplehorn, or more likely to make me acknowledge the screen charisma of Julia Roberts. This is a singularly colorless actress. She's not particularly attractive, not sexy, and her Gina Vitale has zero chemistry with Grant.
The gangster characters fare somewhat better, although these too are spotty. James Caan, last seen in a powerful performance as the disillusioned Irish schoolteacher in THIS IS MY FATHER, is in fine comedic form as Gina's father Frank. Caan has had the misfortune of being permanently identified as Sonny Corleone, and here he plays off that image with surprising subtlety. Burt Young, of ROCKY fame, is almost unrecognizable as "Uncle Vito", head of a crime family. It's a performance that's almost too subtle, devoid of the comic potential that Marlon Brando brought to the character of Carmine Sabatini in THE FRESHMAN, or even that Dean Stockwell realized as Tony "The Tiger" Russo in MARRIED TO THE MOB.
The biggest surprise, however, is the disappearance into the woodwork of Joe Viterelli. This marvelous gangster archetype out of Central Casting stole ANALYZE THIS right out from under Billy Crystal and Robert DeNiro's noses -- no mean feat. Yet here he's just another big, shambling, dumb gangster; hardly recognizable as the same person. His presence in both this film and in ANALYZE THIS merely serves to underscore that film's sharpness and wit in comparison to this lame, stumbling mess.
The audience in the theatre at which I attended this film was howling with laughter. Clearly, they loved it. The more broad the ethnic reference, the more they loved it. The Italians are all gangsters, the Chinese scream in pidgin English littered with obscenities, and the British, embodied in addition to Hugh Grant, by an embarrassing performance by James Fox as Michael's employer, are effeminate, and therefore, by definition homosexual.
Oh, you might laugh in places while watching MICKEY BLUE EYES. I did. But you'll wonder why, and you might even dislike yourself for it. I did.
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