Mickey Blue Eyes
Rating -

Comedy (US); 1999; Rated PG-13; 103 Minutes

Hugh Grant: Michael Felgate
James Caan: Frank Vitale
Jeanne Tripplehorn: Gina Vitale
Burt Young: Vito Graziosi
James Fox: Philip Cromwell

Produced by Elizabeth Hurley, Charles Mulvehill and Karen Smith; Directed by Kelly Makin; Screenwritten by Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"Italians have a hard time with apologies. They also have a hard time with passing wet cement without putting someone in it."

-Dialogue from "The Golden Girls"

Mob movies are among the most deceiving in the motion picture industry, not because they thrive on the same old formulas, but because they generate major appeal and often deliver below our expectations. Manipulated minds see the trailers, watch the campaigns, and are sure that the movie will be just as good as promised. Alas, as seen most recently in the mob comedy "Analyze This," expectations can be dashed. But now comes a motion picture to change all that called "Mickey Blue Eyes." The movie isn't a very good one, granted, but since campaigns and television spots were all but impressive to begin with, we have no hopes to hold on to. As a result, we leave the theater with a few minor surprises still etched in our minds.

Hugh Grant stars as Michael Felgate, an auctioneer whose life begins to take dramatic turns when he proposes to his girlfriend (of all places, in a Chinese restaurant). Gina (Jeanne Tripplehorn) is at first astonished, but then she runs away crying her eyes out, sure that if she were to accept this proposal, it would only mean trouble for her spouse. Why? Because she is a member of a mob family, and fears that Michael will get involved if married to her. He vows to remain distant, and she accepts the proposal. Not to be surprised, though, his promise is broken by the efforts of Gina's father, Frank Vitale.

You obviously know who James Caan is, so I'll skip the introduction. His role as Frank, a lead member of the mob, is one that is played with such quick wit and precision that Robert DeNiro should take a few notes. Caan has never had much trouble playing members of the Mafia in the past (he was in "The Godfather," after all), but this is a role that slips past any of our expectations. In "The Godfather," we despised his attitude; in "Mickey Blue Eyes," we hate him in general, but constantly find his jokes funny. This is, in part, because the script by Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn does not indulge Caan's character to persuade our hatred. Filmmakers have the tendency to pamper characters so that they can earn our appreciation when they don't really deserve it. Here, Frank Vitale remains loathsome and detestable, but is portrayed with so much energy and humor by James Caan that, despite our anger, we can laugh along with the gags.

Unfortunately, Caan's comic genius is one of the only likable elements of this frequently mediocre production. The jokes from supporting characters lack charm, and the chemistry between Michael and Frank feels recycled. Meanwhile, Hugh Grant, who often plays British idiots in the movies, has little fun here trying to lose his accent so that he can fit in with his father-in-law's business. There is a scene when Frank, behind the wheel of his car, is giving Michael lessons in Mafia dialogue. In teaching his son-in-law to say "Fughet about it," Frank is forced to sit through a few repeating speech stumbles, as Michael practices the line until he can say it under successful mob lingo. But by the time he does get the line right, sadly, we have lost interest. So has Frank.

I haven't exactly admired many of these "Mafia" films, but there comes an occasion when one stands out (i.e., "The Godfather" and "GoodFellas"), and "Analyze This," this year's first Mafia-style comedy, was not one of them. Most critics enjoyed it, however, and repeat audience turnout let the film become the first comedy of the year to surpass that special 100-million dollar mark. I compliment "Mickey Blue Eyes" a little more than "Analyze This" because it has an advantage over the other--some solid moments of humor, whereas the Billy Crystal/Robert DeNiro comedy was typecast, corny, and painfully unfunny. We aren't dealing with some kind of recommendable product here, but heck, considering the condition of the genre, "Mickey Blue Eyes" isn't bad stuff. So "fughet about it."

1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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