Slipped 'Mickey'

Despite Strong Leading Performances, You'd Have To Be Judgment Impaired To Root For 'Mickey Blue Eyes.'

WOW, THAT NEW Hugh Grant movie, Mickey Blue Eyes, is gol-durned hilarious! Okay, check out this zany gag: James Caan plays a gangster, and in one scene he's trying to talk on the phone while simultaneously torturing some nameless loser who owes him money! Actual torture! What a riot! Man, that's funnier than rape and environmental devastation combined! In fact, if you're a fan of torture as comedic device, you'd have really enjoyed watching me watch this film. It was tantamount to being abducted by space aliens from the planet of the frigid, razor-sharp probes.

The film begins promisingly enough with a legitimately funny segment wherein Hugh Grant, playing fine art auctioneer Michael Felgate, makes witty comments between bids at his upscale auction house. Grant is so charming and pretty that it's hard to go wrong just focusing on his face as he flashes one of his patented sheepish smiles.

Sadly, the movie must move away from Grant's arresting visage to get on with its degrading and derivative plot. Felgate, it seems, has fallen in love with Gina (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn), and has decided to ask her to marry him. In the first of the cruel comedy sequences that dominate this twisted movie, Felgate's marriage proposal, slipped into a fortune cookie, winds up going to the wrong table. He notices a woman across the restaurant saying "I will! I do! I will!" most loudly to her befuddled date, so he runs across the room, nabs the note, apologizes, and delivers it to his Gina. Of course, the other woman is now sobbing, and her mournful noises punctuate the rest of the scene. See, it's funny because this anonymous woman has been publicly humiliated and had her heart torn out by this wacky, loony gag!

But things get even more fun from there: It turns out that Gina can't marry Michael because she's afraid that her father, a second banana in an Italian organized crime family, will corrupt her beloved beau and turn him into just the sort of criminal that she wants to get away from.

Well, at first Michael resists the call to crime, but laughs ensue when the Mafia boss threatens to kill him unless he complies. Things get even more kooky and cockamamie when the big boss' son comes to beat Michael up, and Gina accidentally shoots him through the head, splattering his funny, crazy brains all over the floor! Now the big boss, played by one of Hollywood's official Mafiosi, Burt Young, is going to kill Michael! Get it...the joke is somebody else is going to die!

Whew, it's non-stop laughter as innocent victims are harassed, beaten and thrown into ditches by these goofy, batty felons. Just when you think it couldn't get any funnier, Michael is forced to pretend to be a Mafiosi named Mickey Blue Eyes...but he can't pronounce "forget about it" with the standard Queens inflexion, thus giving him away as a non-felonious citizen with no record of violent and pointless crimes against humanity. What an embarrassment!

Sadly, Hugh Grant is pretty good in this movie, and it just shows what a waste of talent his last few films have been. He's even improved since he started doing this kind of unchallenging, romantic comedy material, so we can only hope that he gets out of this popular cinematic ghetto and back to something with a little heart.

James Caan, who plays Gina's father, is also as good as he always is, and this movie shows the extent to which he's been neglected by Hollywood: even with a horrible script and workmanlike directing, he still seems to shine with star power.

The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Most of the actors who look like Hollywood's idea of organized criminals are here, including a good bit of the cast of HBO's The Sopranos. The real standout oddity is Tripplehorn.

She's supposed to be a Queens-born Mafia princess, but she seems incapable of acting or sounding like anyone who's ever been to Queens. She also gives the film a reversal of the ordinary romantic comedy pairing, wherein the guy is nowhere near as good looking as the woman. While Hugh Grant could tighten the trousers of even the straight boys in the audience, Tripplehorn's oddly surgically "enhanced" face could most charitably be described as "weird." My friend Julius Knipl said he thought she looked like "an aquatic mammal with collagen implants." It's hard to imagine how someone without acting talent could nab a lead role in a major film without looks to fall back on, but then Grant's longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley produced this film, so perhaps she had a say in the choice of leading ladies.

Another unsavory feature of this film, which I'm almost loathe to mention for fear of sounding PC and overly sensitive, is that Mickey Blue Eyes reiterates the standard cinema saw that all Italians are in the Mafia. I myself am of Sicilian extraction, and have somehow not only failed to be in the Mafia, but have found myself in rooms with a couple hundred other Italians who also bore the almost singular distinction of not being in the Mafia. Beyond all odds, in fact, I have never even met anyone who's in the Mafia, in spite of the fact that I have attended any number of family reunions wherein everyone present was at least half Sicilian.

But the most disturbing thing about Mickey Blue Eyes is the way it mistakes violence and abuse for light comedy. There are scenes in this film that could make Quentin Tarantino uncomfortable, but they're played as though they're just standard slapstick gags. This horrible confusion of tone made Mickey Blue Eyes one of the most unpleasant movie experiences I've had this year.

Mickey Blue Eyes is playing at Century El Con (202-3343), Century Gateway (792-9000), Century Park (620-0750), DeAnza Drive-In (745-2240) and Foothills (742-6174) cinemas.

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