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Mickey Blue Eyes

Review by Carrie Gorringe
Posted 20 August 1999

Mickey Blue Eyes  

Directed by Kelly Makin

Starring Hugh Grant, 
James Caan, Jeanne Tripplehorn, 
Burt Young, James Fox, 
and Joseph Viterelli

Written by Adam Scheinman 
and Robert Kuhn

Mickey Blue Eyes is primarily concerned with answering the following question: cana veddy, veddy proper English auctioneer named Michael Felgate (Grant) and the girl of his dreams, the lovely New Yorker Gina Vitale (Tripplehorn), find true happiness?

Well, under normal circumstances, the answer might be yes, except for one slightly sticky wicket; in this case, the adhesive on the wicket is the consistency of super glue .Gina’s papa, Frank Vitale (Caan), is what is commonly referred to as a “made man,” and there’s no suffix of “self” to precede it or to soften the consequences. Mickey Blue EyesFrank is a member of the Graziosi Crime Family, headed by the quietly malevolent “Uncle” Vito (Young), affectionately known as “The Butcher,” whose belligerent and paranoid son fancies himself an artist (Graziosi Junior, living proof of the rare virtues to be found in the practice of nepotism, devises artistic atrocities full of unintentional contradiction ripped full-canvas from the genius of Renaissance masters). Against the wishes of his bride-to-be and his own good intentions, Michael is about to experience his own rebirth as a money launderer and as a thug from Kansas City named Mickey Blue Eyes, as he tries to hide from an offended Uncle Vito and to hide the truth from his fiancée, who had extracted a promise from him never to become involved in the “family” business. If Michael ends up merely a floater in the East River, he should consider himself fortunate under the circumstances.

However, as the film was attempting to answer this question, it is all too obvious that certain individuals had forgotten to ask themselves another question long before the cameras had started rolling: why isn’t this comedy amusing, apart from the odd inspired tag line? Deciphering the second question is at once simple and painful, as one recognizes the waste of talent that represents the fallout from the inability or the refusal to ask. As a satire, Mickey Blue Eyes has several disadvantages going against it, among them its second-out-of-the-gate status, which makes comparisons between it and Harold Ramis’ Mafia send-up, Analyze This, unavoidable. Mickey Blue Eyes really, really wants us to like it, and the usual excuses for failure generally associated with satirizing a criminal organization, Mickey Blue Eyesespecially one connected in the public’s eye with a particular ethnic group, without causing grave offense (pun intended) don’t apply here (and if, as a filmmaker, you’re obsessively concerned with offending people in the name of creating a satire, then -- a gentle suggestion -- perhaps Greek tragedy might be more to your liking). The film has great performances and a solid premise (Burt Young, in particular, projects an overwhelming aura of thinly-veiled ruthlessness). So why does Mickey Blue Eyes feel as if it is nothing more than a series of gifted actors trapped within a dishwater-thin script and fighting to escape? The central problem boils down to the filmmakers’ excessive reliance upon the actors and the premise to carry weak plotting and eviscerated satire to the level of high comedy. Moreover, the script veers, like an inexperienced traveler, too far into the realm of tragedy; for about twenty minutes at least, the film actually reverses its trajectory and turns into a drama , thereby causing the film to permanently blunt its comedic edge; Director Makin, who is not unfamiliar with the necessities of comedic films (he directed Kids In the Hall: Brain Candy), should have detected the stench of defeat in this script long before the cameras started rolling.

This film not only veers awkwardly between weak comedy and even weaker tragedy, but too often the film leans heavily upon Grant’s patented upper-class naïve Brit schlemiel persona to keep the film afloat, not to mention some fairly rancid rip-offs from other films, such as the titty-tweaking bit snatched from Austin Powers’ showdown with the fembots (this duplication should be less than a coincidence, since Grant’s long-time significant other, Mickey Blue EyesElizabeth Hurley, is the co-producer of Mickey Blue Eyes and the former Mrs. Austin Powers, and if that’s the extent of a film’s comedic heights, then you know the film is DOA from frame one). The much-publicized scene in which Papa Vitale attempts to convert (contort?) Michael’s Oxbridge accent into Brooklynese en route to lunch with some of Graziosi’s thugs plays itself out less smoothly in context than as a discrete segment, because by the time it appears in the film, the wear marks in the script have long since started to show through. Unfortunately, the outcome of Grant’s one-arm-behind-his-back attempt at salvation is not unlike attempting to suspend concrete blocks from a wire-coat hanger. There are too many defects in Mickey Blue Eyes for Grant’s charm, compelling though it can be in the right setting, to act as a sufficient counterweight to the bumbling around him. Now that his and Liz’ production company, Simian Films, have released two mediocrities in succession (the first being the unintentionally hilarious evil-doctor melodrama Extreme Measures, which achieved the impossible feat of making Coma seem like a deep theoretical meditation by comparison), maybe they’ve gotten the carbon out of their creative systems and might actually come up with a script to match the quality of their casting.

Had Mickey Blue Eyes been given both a head start and a decent lease on life from the beginning, it might have had a chance at being considered mildly amusing rather than the most ungainly of attempts to satirize the mob, but instead the comedic paralysis that infects Mickey Blue Eyes simply causes the film to sink into the doldrums in comparison with Harold Ramis’ unflinching, manic comic vision for Analyze This. In one word: Fuhgeddaboutit!

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