Mickey Blue Eyes
Screenplay : Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Hugh Grant (Michael Felgate), James Caan (Frank Vitale), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Gina Vitale), Burt Young (Vito Graziosi), James Fox (Philip Cromwell), Joe Viterelli (Vinnie)
Because the gangster genre is one of the most durable of the American cinema, over the years it has been satirized and lampooned from just about every possible angle. Whether that be turning a gangster into a weeping basket case in need of psychiatric advice in "Analyze This," which opened earlier this year, or making a farce about the notion of the Mafia as family in "Married to the Mob" (1988), it's all been done before.
This, of course, puts "Mickey Blue Eyes" is a precarious position. What can it possibly do to derive original humor from such an overworked concept? The answer seems to be nothing more than creating yet another fish-out-of-water story with Hugh Grant's flappable English charm running head-to-head with the unflappability of American mobsters played by James Caan, Burt Young, and Joe Viterelli.
Grant stars as Michael Felgate, an art auctioneer in New York who proposes to his girlfriend, Gina Vitale (Jeanne Tripplehorn), unaware that she is the daughter of a mobster, Frank Vitale (James Caan). Gina loves Michael, but she doesn't want to marry him because she doesn't want to get him involved in her family's life of crime. Michael assures her that he will not become involved, but we know that it is simply not possible. It isn't long before Michael is conned into laundering dirty money by auctioning awful paintings by the son of a powerful mob boss (one of the paintings is titled "Die Piggy, Die, Die") while trying to hide his involvement from Gina.
At this point, the movie is working. Not particularly well, but it is functional. At the midway point, however, screenwriters Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn get Michael involved in a murder, after which he is forced to pretend he is a mobster named Mickey Blue Eyes. There are a few scenes where Caan tries to teach him to talk like a gangster, and Grant ends up sounding more like Bugs Bunny on lithium than James Cagney. It should be one of the movie's funniest scenes, but it isn't.
The movie ends with a climatic scene at Michael and Gina's faux wedding that is planned by the FBI as a sting operation. Director Kelly Makin, an alum of "Kids in the Hall," stages a violent shoot-out that feels ridiculously out of place in this otherwise light-hearted comedy. In fact, Makin makes several scenes in the film much more violent than they need to be. Graphic violence works in gangster films when the director is trying to drive home realism; "Mickey Blue Eyes" should be about as far from realism as a movie can get.
Another of the movie's problems involves the casting of James Caan as Frank. Yes, Caan is a great actor, and he carries a certain amount of Mafia baggage from his infamous role as the hot-headed Sonny in "The Godfather" (1972). However, he doesn't carry enough baggage. That is, the associations aren't nearly as strong as, say, Robert De Niro had in "Analyze This." The role of Frank demands either that kind of previous association, or pure comic inventiveness like the kind Dean Stockwell brought to his role in "Married to the Mob." Unfortunately, Caan doesn't have either, and he looks more uncomfortable than intimidating.
On the other hand, Burt Young, known best as Adrian's drunk brother Paulie in the "Rocky" series, is excellent as the mob boss Vito Graziosi. Short, stout, bald, and wearing a pair of glasses thicker than Coke bottles, Young plays the role completely straight and ends up getting the most laughs.
Grant plays Michael as yet another entry in his long line of floppy-haired English charmers. Several of his scenes that involve physical comedy are quite amusing, including his inability to put a gun in his waistband without it from slipping down his leg. However, even Grant's beguiling persona aren't enough to save "Mickey Blue Eyes," proving that this kind of comedy, which has been done so many times before, has to be done just right if it is to work.
©1999 James Kendrick