Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:43 - Released 8/20/99

When it comes to gangster movies, it seems the graphic, no-nonsense approach taken by The Godfather, Goodfellas, and Casino have been replaced of late by humorous interpretations such as Mafia!, Analyze This, and, now, Mickey Blue Eyes. This film's premise is similar to Analyze This (non-mobster forced to fit in among the tough guys), but in that film it was a jewish psychiatrist who had to "don" the silk suit and $900 shoes. This time it's Hugh Grant as a proper British gentleman (does Hugh ever play anything else?) playing opposite mob film veteran James Caan against a backdrop of old mafia standard actors. The result is not revolutionary, but is at least moderately palatable.

Grant plays Michael Felgate, an auctioneer at Cromwell's New York art house. His girlfriend Gina (Jeanne Tripplehorn), to whom he's about to pop the question, is the daughter of mob heavyweight Frank Vitale (Caan). Gina has been reticent to introduce Michael to her notorious family for fear he would leave her, but Frank welcomes him with open arms. In fact, he becomes so friendly with them that Gina thinks he might become corrupted and start doing business with them. "One little favor, one little lie, and you're theirs," she tells him.

Michael promises not to get involved, but sure enough, he's soon pressured into showing the atrocious artworks painted by Johnny Graziosi (John Ventimiglia). Johnny is the son of Frank's brother, the powerful and influential Vito Graziosi (Burt Young, best known as Paulie in the Rocky movies). Next thing you know, Johnny gets shot in a freak accident at Michael's apartment, and Vito is out for blood. In an outlandish scheme to protect his relationship with Gina and proceed with the marriage, Michael must masquerade as a goodfella, faking a terrible New York accent and trying to fool various big time bosses.

This movie, written by Adam Sheinman and Robert Kuhn and directed by Kelly Makin (although Grant himself manned the megaphone for some scenes), would surely have had better effect if it had not followed so closely on the heels of last March's Analyze This, which had bigger names (Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal) and better chemistry between those two leads. Timed as it is, Mickey Blue Eyes tends to look like a cheap re-hash of the idea, even though it actually has some better supporting performances (Tripplehorn is leagues better as the female lead than Lisa Kudrow; Young's performance, while nicely subtle, is almost too serious for the film). Director Makin obviously didn't do much to distance his project from the other film, applying the same tone and pace, and even using some of the same actors in supporting roles. The story is remarkably unbelievable and the ending eminently predictable.

As for Grant and Caan, well . . . they show moderate energy, but they could play these parts in their sleep. With no new innovations in character, their roles in Mickey Blue Eyes will undoubtedly go down as some of their more forgettable. **½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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