Movie reviews by Edwin Jahiel

Mickey Blue Eyes (1999)

Directed by Kelly Makin, Written by Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn. Photography, Donald E. Thorin. Editing, David Freeman. Production design, Gregory Keen. Music, Basil Poledouris. Produced by Elizabeth Hurley and Charles Mulvehill. Cast: Hugh Gr ant (Michael Felgate), James Caan (Frank Vitale), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Gina Vitale), Burt Young ("Uncle" Vito Graziosi), James Fox (Philip Cromwell), Joe Viterelli (Vinnie), Gerry Becker (Agent Connell), et al. 102 minutes. PG-13

The FBI, the media and statistics claim that the Mafia in America has finally lost its blood and is but a shadow of its former self. Maybe so. But the gangster genre in movies and TV is alive and well. The films are fiction, and from the looks of the recent Analyze This and the current Mickey Blue Eyes, the latest tendency is gansgster comedy. Not that it is a new genre. (Let me put in a plug for the very underrated Oscar (1991), from a French play. It was directed by John Landis. Sylvester Stall one played Angelo Provolone)

Gangsters, lawmen, and historical events in films (both fictional and biopics) are seldom accurate--though this does not harm the excellence of many productions. The recently deceased Mario Puzo made no bones about his books and scripts (The Godfather, The Sicilian, The Last Don, etc. ) being imaginary creations based on research and not at all on familiarity with gangsters. So, from there to gangster comedy, the gap is not really big.

Here Michael Felgate (Hugh Grant) plays an urbane, very British auctioneer at a Manhattan house which tries to emulate Sotheby's. The start of the film is a most amusing auction of paintings, with witty remarks by Grant. There follows the lovey-dovey in troduction of schoolteacher girlfriend Gina Vitale (Jeanne Tripplehorn), leading to a sequence at a Chinese restaurant, a comic imbroglio involving a fortune cookie. Grant proposes marriage. To his dismay and bewilderment, Gina, without giving a reason, refuses and runs off.

These preliminaries, whatever their entertainment values, run too long, muddling us, along with Grant. The plot, in a round-about way, has him meeting Gina's father Frank Vitale (James Caan) at the latter's restaurant. Michael is too naive and dense to catch on to the blindingly obvious fact that Frank & Relatives & Friends are big-time Mafiosi. It takes an elucidation by Gina to reveal that the family is a Family, that her refusal comes from her conviction that, if she marries Michael, Frank & Co. will inevitably involve him in their activities.

Heroically in love and undeterred, Michael presses on, gets engaged, and unwittingly becomes the recipient as well as the giver of "favors" with the Mob. The plot escalates into complications which involve paintings by a disturbed scion of the group, me ssy art auctions, a labor union, the FBI, money-laundering, a dotty rich old lady, the accidental killing of a Family member, quid pro quos regarding the presumed killer, and more. Several of these sections are funny while, at the same time, most of the black humor is forced. But neither the overall structure, nor any of the single episodes is believable or convincing. What started out as a rather sophisticated reminder of the auction with Cary Grant in North by Northwest, is transformed into an unhol y tangle of broad-to-blatant gags, incredible coincidences and an outrageously messy, confusing last act (the wedding).

In spite of feverish twists and action, the movie lacks verisimilitude, continuity and coherence. Sinews too, partly because of its structure, partly because, in this aptly-named Simian Production, Hugh Grant apes himself by playing the familiar dazed and confused, passive and predictable Hugh Grant, a boyish ninny as opposed to our recollections of the suave, appealing, active Cary Grant. Mickey is as far as can be from the holy simplicity of Alfred Hitchcock's productions.

Curiously, within the limits and confines of a silly movie (the title of which refers to a Midwestern mobster whom Grant is forced to impersonate), there are several bits of good acting. Paradoxically, while the Family members are caricatures and cliches to a great extent (at least to those of us who are not familiar with the Mob), there is some realism behind it all. And it is good to see again, 27 years later, another Mafia performance by James Caan who played Sonny Corleone in The Godfather.

The bottom line is that Mickey Blue Eyes is not a good movie, yet, mega-warts and all, it is quite watchable, mostly for a plethora of gags. The visuals are fine, well supported by the profuse, ironical use of old Italian-American songs (vocals and inst rumentals), mostly pop classics, with, if I am not mistaken, some contemporary Italian items.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie reviews by Edwin Jahiel