They've created a mobster.
A fine disc from Warner, it has everything you could want, except perhaps a truly funny movie. Still not a bad film, just a bit lacking.
One great vehicle for a comedy is the "fish out of water" theme. Numerous great films have used it. Spoofing the group that the stranger tries to fit into makes it even funnier. This is the formula used to present Mickey Blue Eyes; a farce about a poofy English art dealer trying to fit into his wife's family, emphasis on the word Family.
Hugh Grant (Notting Hill, Extreme Measures, Four Weddings and a Funeral) plays Michael Felgate, a New York based art dealer with some business problems. He actually does the part of the art dealer well; which he should since the script was written with him in mind. The scenes where he is dealing with art auctions and the business are well done. When he proposes to his fiancée Gina Vitale, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn (Water World, The Firm, Very Bad Things) she refuses. He visits her father's restaurant to attempt to track her down (called The La Traviata, or The The Traviata) he gets to meet her family for the first time. The room is full of stereotypical mobsters, especially the inimitable Joe Viterelli (Analyze This, Jane Austen's Mafia, Eraser), predictably named Vinnie.
James Caan (Bulletproof, Eraser, Godfather III) plays her father, and Burt Young (the Rocky series, Back to School) is very convincing as crime boss Vito Graziosi. Michael is clueless about who and what they are, though the audience isn't. Even after he finds out what they are, he is determined to still marry the girl, and it is after that when trouble begins. First, all of his business problems disappear, as the formerly surly and late-delivering truck drivers arrive on time, apologetically. It turns out that this favor was given at a price; that Michael must now start auctioning off Vito's son's horrible art at high prices. This is done as a money laundering scheme to put illicit dollars back into the legit art market. These scenes are also pretty funny. Of course Gina isn't aware of this, and will take it as a deception on Michael's part. Misadventures begin, including trying to make Michael fit in with other mobsters as "Little Big Mickey Blue Eyes."
On the technical front, this is a marvelous disc. The picture is crisply detailed, with great color saturation and a dearth of artifacts or other film deficiencies such as nicks or cuts. The pan-and-scan version is on the other side, which I don't grade since it is inherently an inferior medium for the picture. The DD 5.1 audio mix is equally well done, though this isn't a film to make extensive use of surrounds or subwoofer. The surrounds are still used to good effect when needed though. Dialogue is spread across the front channels, making a wider but still clear-sounding soundstage. The extra content includes a commentary with director Kelly Makin, better known for television commercials, cast and crew bios and filmographies, the theatrical trailer, and very short behind the scenes text.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A fish out of water type movie like this depends heavily on it's central character to anchor the film. Hugh Grant just doesn't quite cut it. As I said above, he does well in the scenes where he is in his element as the art dealer, but in the scenes with the mobsters he falls a bit flat. He always seems a bit too calm, in situations that don't call for it. Jeanne Tripplehorn is frantic in the face of Grant's façade, and it doesn't work. I'm not saying the film isn't funny, because there is certainly a chuckle or two to be had. I just expected quite a bit more, and the premise and the trailer brought me to that expectation.
I'm also going to lay the blame on the makers of the film. Since it was Grant's and Elizabeth Hurley's production company doing the film, they could have used different people for the screenplay and director. Kelly Makin has little film experience, and neither do the two screenwriters. I think superior talent could have made a big difference with this vehicle. While I'm ragging on Mr. Makin, his commentary track is dry as dust. By the time I'd gotten halfway through it I was ready to strangle him every time he mispronounced the word "drama." He treated the film more as a science to create a comedy than the artistic touch needed to make a truly funny movie. The commentary is certainly informative in areas like why a setting or lighting was chosen, but not enough on the behind the scenes aspect of the film and actors.
It is inevitable to me that this film be compared to another Warner release this year, Analyze This. Both are fish-out-of-water gangster spoofs, released within 6 months of each other. Mickey Blue Eyes was released 5 months later, and has the feeling of a poor copy. I'm not saying Analyze This is one of my ten favorite comedies of all time, but it was far funnier than this. Having Harold Ramis and Robert De Niro, along with the more comedically experienced Billy Crystal made the film gel and work to bring a real laugh from your lips, instead of a light chuckle.
If you're a real Hugh Grant fan, then this film will probably work better for you than it did for me, and would make a good purchase. The disc is certainly worth it. For most of you though, I'd recommend a rental when no other movie is more pressing to you. I'm very ambivalent about the film; I don't hate it, I just didn't like it too much either.
Hugh Grant is sentenced to doing more sappy romantic comedies, something he is reasonably good at. The makers of the film are asked to watch more experienced directors and writers at work before trying again. Warner is commended on a fine disc. Court adjourned.
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