Friday August 20, 1999
Hugh Grant is at rescuing doomed ventures. And while "Mickey Blue Eyes" was never going to be a certifiable disaster, Grant goes a long way toward saving it from itself.
Starring Grant, James Caan and Jeanne Tripplehorn, "Mickey Blue Eyes" follows "Analyze This" and "Mafia!" films that insist that there is something terribly funny about Italian Americans who terminate lives for a living.
Certainly Michael Felgate (Grant), a Brit turned Manhattan fine arts auctioneer, would never guess that the Mafia would be good for a laugh, or even figure in his life. He's madly in love with the vivacious Gina Vitale (Tripplehorn), so much so that he's determined to marry her after only three months of dating even though she's never introduced him to her family.
But Michael's farcical proposal scene, at a non-romantic Chinese restaurant with the obdurate owner hanging on every word, ends badly, with Gina bursting into tears and fleeing the room, insisting that she loves him but that marriage is impossible.
Trying to find her, Michael ends up at the La Trattoria, the Italian restaurant run by Gina's father, Frank (Caan). Inside he meets a lot of sullen guys named Carmine, Vinnie and Uncle Vito. "Are you all family?" he asks brightly, an unknowingly charged question that gets answered with a gruff "mostly."
As we know instinctively and Michael finds out once he locates Gina, Uncle Vito is Vito "The Butcher " Graziosi (Burt Young), head of a prominent crime family, and this is the mob the young man's thinking of marrying into. Except Gina won't let him.
"Everything they touch ends up spoiled and corrupted," Gina says, fearful that Michael will get caught in a web of favors given and received and become complicit in organized crime before he knows what's happening. Michael's confidence that this won't happen gets Gina to agree to the marriage, but we know he can't be right or there wouldn't be any movie.
It turns out, for instance, that Vito has a hot-headed, unstable son named Johnny (John Ventimiglia) who took up painting as part of his therapy, and Vito wonders if Michael can help with the sale of striking efforts like Johnny's portrait of Christ with a machine gun. Michael agrees and all of a sudden his once-surly truckers treat him with respect, there's a fire of suspicious origin at archrival Sotheby's and the genteel art auctioneer realizes he's in trouble.
This is a clever conceit (the script is by Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn) and director Kelly Makin, best known for his work with the Canadian comedy troupe the Kids in the Hall, manage to start things off agreeably with sly moments and smart lines.
"Mickey Blue Eyes' " biggest asset is, of course, Mr. Grant. Nobody does dazed and confused like he does, and this script, which was rewritten specifically with him in mind, gives the actor numerous opportunities to be humorously bumbling and befuddled. Especially diverting is the scene in which Frank, in an attempt to pass Michael off as mobster Mickey Blue Eyes (don't ask), tries to teach the man how to say, "Fuggedaboudit."
But though it begins with promise, "Mickey Blue Eyes," like many an unlucky gangland figure, comes to a bad end. Though they are classic comedy characters, Michael, Frank, Gina and company end up getting involved in very real violence, and the mixture makes for an awkward fit. Add in preposterously convoluted plot twists, and not even Grant in full rescue mode plus an Italian American soundtrack with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Louis Prima are enough to make us smile all the way through to the end.
Mickey Blue Eyes, 1999. PG-13, for brief strong language, some violence and sensuality. Castle Rock Entertainment presents a Simian Films production, released by Warner Bros. Director Kelly Makin. Producers Elizabeth Hurley, Charles Mulvehill. Screenplay Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn. Cinematographer Donald E. Thorin. Editor David Freeman. Costumes Ellen Mirojnick. Music Basil Poledouris. Production design Gregory Keen. Art director Tom Warren. Set decorators Susan Kaufman, Andrea Fenton. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. Hugh Grant as Michael Felgate. James Caan as Frank Vitale. Jeanne Tripplehorn as Gina Vitale. Burt Young as Vito Graziosi. James Fox as Philip Cromwell. Joe Viterelli as Vinnie.