'My Cousin Vinny': a hit for Joe Pesci despite movie's stereotypes

October 02, 1992|By Scott Hettrick | Scott Hettrick,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

MY COUSIN VINNY

FoxVideo (1992)

Joe Pesci must have achieved some sort of record in the past three years for co-starring in more critically and commercially successful films than most actors even have time to watch. After supporting roles in "Goodfellas," "Home Alone" (and its upcoming sequel), "Lethal Weapon 2 and 3" and "JFK," the diminutive Pesci has proven that he can also be commercially viable as the star of comedies, such as "The Super" and "My

Cousin Vinny," which earned more than $50 million at theaters this year.

But box office grosses have little correlation to the quality of a film. And "My Cousin Vinny" is a perfect example of that dichotomy. More than just a bad film, "Vinny" is reckless and thoughtless in its stereotypical depiction of geographic regions and the people who live within their boundaries.

Ralph Macchio, in a role that is about as demanding as a trip to the filling station, and his buddy, played by Mitchell Whitfield, are mistakenly arrested and charged with the murder of a clerk at an Alabama convenience store they had left minutes earlier, inadvertently failing to pay for a can of tuna. Right away we see what level of humor we are in for when an interrogation scene in which there is a communication gap over what the boys are being charged with is carried on for a seemingly interminable four minutes.

The boys call home to New York for help, and the family sends its newest attorney: cousin Pesci. Problem is, he's just passed the bar exam, on his sixth try, and has never been in a courtroom.

When Vinny rolls into town, so do all the derogatory characterizations. He with the Brooklyn accent, cocky attitude, black leather outfit and slang dialect ("utes" instead of "youths"). You can imagine how the townsfolk are depicted -- big, dumb, slow. They hang out in pool halls and use lots of lard when they cook their grits. Vinny is awakened each morning by factory whistles and hogs going to feed.

Even the pacing of the overextended two-hour film is flawed. Several times when the tempo builds to a crescendo and it appears that the nervous Vinny is about to begin his case, we suddenly get 20 more minutes of setup.

There's no doubt Mr. Pesci is talented. Let's just hope he starts being as careful in selecting leading roles as he has been with supporting parts.

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