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MICKEY BLUE EYES

by: Scott Renshaw

Apparently the requirements for being called a "romantic comedy" are growing less and less stringent by the moment. Warner Bros. is touting MICKEY BLUE EYES as "a romantic comedy you can't refuse," which I suppose it is if you define "romantic comedy" as "any film that ends with a punch line and a kiss." Otherwise, it's fairly odd to see the term applied to a broad fish-out-of-water farce -- although, come to think of it, that designation isn't entirely appropriate either. Part of what makes MICKEY BLUE EYES such a flat comedy is that it never settles into a groove, wasting plenty of potential and ignoring the best idea it has going for it.

The "romantic" part of the comedy begins with New York auctioneer Michael Felgate (Hugh Grant) preparing to propose to his girlfriend of only three months, Gina Vitale (Jeanne Tripplehorn). What Michale doesn't know when Gina turns him down is that the Vitale family is part of a more extended "family," including a boss named Vito Graziosi (Burt Young). Though Michael insists they can have a life apart from the family business, he soon finds himself doing a small favor for Gina's father Frank (James Caan), laundering money for the mob through sham art sales. Eventually Michael finds himself deep into some messy activities, forced to interact with some visiting wiseguys while playing the role of Kansas City Little Big Mickey Blue Eyes.

It's a great set-up to drop the stammering, self-conscious Grant in the middle of a bunch of goodfellas and watch him try desperately to feign bravado. When MICKEY BLUE EYES actually plays with that premise, it comes up with a few clever moments -- Michael failing miserably as he works on his Brooklyn dialect, an impromptu confrontation with his boss (James Fox) -- that work even when the situations feel forced. Unfortunately, the fish-out-of-water concept is treated almost as an afterthought, introduced at last nearly half-way through the film and quickly discarded after a couple of scenes. Grant is left to react passively for most of the film, and it's a waste of what he brings to the role. MICKEY BLUE EYES may be a nice title for a film, but it doesn't do a thing to explain what the majority of this film is actually about.

Not that any single title would have served that purpose, mind you. MICKEY BLUE EYES makes some use of the relationship conflicts between Gina and Michael created by his criminal activities, yet never focuses on them enough to allow any genuine chemistry to develop. It does give Caan a chance to toy with his hard-case Sonny Corleone image as a doting father who finally questions his criminal ties, yet doesn't build towards his conversion with any conviction. And it introduces Michael as a smart, playful and charming fellow in his first auction, then instantly loses that character when it becomes more convenient for Michael to become a timid buffoon. By the time the film reaches its over-blown FBI stakeout climax, it has spun off in so many different directions there's nothing to do but sit back and hope for a few incidental giggles.

Sure, MICKEY BLUE EYES does score some of those incidental giggles. The Chinese restaurant proposal scene is funny and well-constructed, and Michael's elaborate striptease to distract Gina is lovely low comedy. There's just not a thing holding the gags together, not enough character arc for Michael (aside from his ill-gotten gains seducing him for about thirty seconds) to raise the film above mid-grade sit-com. It's a high-concept comedy that doesn't make use of its high concept, and a genre film that can't decide on a genre. MICKEY BLUE EYES is about as instantly forgettable a film diversion as you'll find, concerned mostly with leaving the audience with a smile because it ends -- like every good "romantic comedy" worth the name -- with a punch line and a kiss.

On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 slipped Mickeys: 4.

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