Giving us the business

Hugh Grant works his charms, but the mob-movie-mocking 'Mickey Blue Eyes' is an offer we can take or leave.

August 20, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Michael Felgate has a problem. The soft-spoken manager of a classy New York auction house is in love with a gorgeous schoolteacher, who happens to be the daughter of a mid-level mob boss.

But Michael's problem isn't the mob. Michael's problem is that he's in a movie that's been done before -- and much more effectively -- in "Analyze This." Like that earlier comedy, "Mickey Blue Eyes" is a fish-out-of-water comedy that gets most of its laughs by caricaturing the Mafia dramas of Scorsese and Coppola. And like "Analyze This," "Mickey Blue Eyes" is blessed with an appealing guy playing the fish, in this case the always watchable Hugh Grant.

The difference between the two movies is that the laughs in "Mickey Blue Eyes" are intermittent at best. Despite Grant's best efforts, some clever writing and a characteristically intense performance from James Caan, "Mickey Blue Eyes" can't help but seem a bland also-ran in a post-"Sopranos" universe.

Michael has been dating Gina (Jeanne Tripplehorn) for three months when he decides to propose, an event that sends her away in tears.

When he visits the restaurant owned by her father (Caan) -- a charming little boite called The La Trattoria -- Michael finds a warm, genial man eager to marry his daughter off to a respectable citizen. He also finds a bunch of guys named Johnnie and Vito, not to mention Gina's little brother Vinny, but he thinks little of it. When Gina finally tells him that Vito and Johnnie are made men, the worst Michael thinks is that her father's a mob caterer.

Gina tells him it's much worse than that, and she warns Michael not to let her father involve him in the family, er, Family business. But when Michael's art shipments suddenly begin arriving on time out of the blue, he finds himself owing a favor. The payback is to auction off a godawful painting by Johnnie Graziosi called "Die, Piggy-Piggy, Die, Die." Soon, Michael is whacking someone, helping Gina's father dispose of the body and passing himself off as Little Big Mickey Blue Eyes from Kansas City.

Directed by former "Kids in the Hall" director Kelly Makin (ex-Kid Scott Thompson shows up as an FBI agent), "Mickey Blue Eyes" affably ambles from one vignette to the next, with some clever visual jokes thrown in (Gina's father drives a car full of Cuisinarts; when Michael, as Mickey, runs amok in a downtown steak house, his gun keeps slipping down his leg). But the central conceit of the movie -- Michael's efforts to pass in the world of Gina's father -- falls flat, mostly because the mob characters are so fuzzily drawn.

But "Mickey Blue Eyes," which was executive produced by Grant's Simian Films, is clearly meant to be a showcase for Grant's genial charms. As such, it's a well-tempered fix for his more rabid addicts, or for those viewers who find "Analyze This" and "The Sopranos" a little too spicy for their mild-mannered sensibilities.

`Mickey Blue Eyes'

Starring Hugh Grant, Jeanne Tripplehorn, James Caan

Directed by Kelly Makin

Released by Castle Rock Entertainment

Rated PG-13 (language, some violence and sensuality)

Running time: 110 minutes

Sun score: **1/2

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