|Mickey Blue Eyes|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 28 December 1999|
MICKEY BLUE EYES has an odd but pleasantly old-fashioned air; it's easy to imagine the same story being done in the 1960s with, say, Dick Van Dyke, Suzanne Pleshette, Anthony Quinn and Edward G. Robinson. The narrative carries you through the movie, the characters are fun to spend time with, and the dialog is consistently inventive and funny. It's a good if minor movie that showcases Hugh Grant's sharp but diffident charm and his ability to toss away lines, often as a scene is fading out.
In MICKEY BLUE EYES, he's Michael Felgate, a mildly witty Englishman who runs the prestigious New York auction house Cromwell's for its friendly, slightly daft owner Philip Cromwell (James Fox). Michael wants to propose to Gina Vitale (Jeanne Tripplehorn), who clearly loves him, but he's stunned when she rejects his proposal. He's never met her father Frank (James Caan), but she reveals that he runs a restaurant, The La Trattoria, not far away.
Michael visits Frank in the restaurant, where he's introduced to a few very Sicilian-looking locals whom Michael assumes are merely regular customers. Frank likes Michael, and is happy to give him Gina's hand in marriage. But later Gina tries to explain to Michael what she's been hiding. "Are you saying your father is some kind of mob caterer?" No, she says, he's in the mob, and one of the men in the restaurant was none other than mob leader Vito "The Butcher" Graziosi (Burt Young). She's always been reluctant to marry anybody, because too often, she's seen bystanders sucked into the mob, corrupted by simply being near mobsters.
Michael staunchly assures her that will not happen, but of course, there wouldn't be any movie if something like that didn't happen. Suddenly Michael's problems with deliverymen vanish; then Sotheby's burns up, clearly the work of Vito. Frank accepts Michael and Gina's desire to stay away from the mob, and he tries to help disentangle Vito's growing tentacles, while Michael frantically tries to hide all of this from Gina.
Michael ends up having to auction off hideously awful paintins by Vito's volcanically-tempered son Johnny (John Ventimiglia). Things get complicated when this turns out to be part of a money-laundering scheme, and when Johnny LOVES the idea of his paintings being sold for big bucks.
For complicated reasons, Frank is forced to introduce Michael to some fellow mobsters as one of their own, Mickey Blue Eyes. Then Grant has to try to sound like a gangster, which isn't easy, since he doesn't quite understand the rules. Leave out the Rs, says Caan. Which results in Grant saying "here" as "hee." Eventually, things get dangerous, and the FBI becomes involved.
Hugh Grant and his longtime partner Elizabeth Hurley (one of the producers) worked long and hard with writers Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn to shape the script to fit Grant's considerable talents as a light comedian. He's a master of the just-overheard, scene-ending, understated wisecrack, which help keep the scenes flowing and give them a comic flip at the end. But he's also handsome enough to be a completely acceptable romantic lead, and willing to engage in a kind of genteel slapstick.
While the scenes with Jeanne Tripplehorn are pleasantly romantic, they don't have the zest of his work with Julia Roberts in NOTTING HILL, partly because the writers haven't really given Tripplehorn enough to do, or very much of a character. On the other hand, Grant's scenes with James Caan have a dry but earthy wit; they're such a contrast and so skilled at what they're doing that they play off one another quite wonderfully.
In fact, James Caan is pretty damned wonderful throughout "Mickey Blue Eyes." Here, he does not give a comic performance; he plays it straight, which makes everything even funnier.
Kelly Makin was an odd choice for director; he did the low-grade action picture TIGER CLAWS, NATIONAL LAMPOON'S SENIOR TRIP and the pretty funny KIDS IN THE HALL: BRAIN CANDY. But even that, easily his best movie, is so radically different from MICKEY BLUE EYES that it's hard to understand why he was hired to direct this one. There's no good clue from the movie itself, as far as that goes; it's well-done, but there's nothing very creative, innovative or imaginative about the direction.
Although the movie is quite entertaining overall, there are some awkward, misfired elements. There's a kind of subplot about Gina's growing suspicions about/jealousy of Michael that never pays off; the big wedding scene at the end is intended to be the climax, but it's drawn out too long. Though it has some similarities to NOTTING HILL, it wasn't the big hit that film was (and deserved to be), but it's a funny, bright little movie, entertaining and well-acted.
Mostly, the Warners DVD is their usual: the "standard" (pan and scanned) version on one side of the disc, the letterboxed version on the other, with the usual scene selections, alternate languages, trailer and production notes. But this time, there's an interesting if low-key narration by director Makin. He may not be a great comedy director, but he certainly understands comedy, and explains his choices (and sometimes his mistakes) very clearly. He concentrates on timing and rhythm, and makes it very clear just what he means by those overused terms.