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My Cousing Vinny

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: My Cousing Vinny

Starring: Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Rated: R
RunTime: 119 Minutes
Release Date: March 1992
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Marisa Tomei, Mitchell Whitfield, Fred Gwynne, Lane Smith, Austin Pendleton, Bruce McGill

Review by Dragan Antulov
2 stars out of 4

Whenever Hollywood recruits some promising non-European filmmaker the results are usually disappointing and sometimes even devastating for the filmmaker's career or reputation. There are few filmmakers who managed to escape such fate and maintain the quality of their work while working for American film industry. One of them is Jonathan Lynn, author of popular British television sitcoms YES, MINISTER and YES, PRIME MINISTER. Apparently, Lynn knew how to use that experience in Hollywood and his comedies in past decade, although not masterpieces, had consistent quality, which is something quite rare in present-day American cinema. Among those films the best-known is 1992 comedy MY COUSIN VINNY.

The plot, based on the script by Dale Launer, starts in small Alabama town where Bill Gambini (played by Ralph Macchio) and Stan Rothstein (played by Mitchell Whittfiled), two young students from New York, make a stop while driving to UCLA only to be arrested and indicted for the murder of a convenience store clerk. Since Southern states take such matters more seriously than rest of the country, two young men are in danger of being put to electric chair. In desperation and short of money needed to hire legal help Bill remembers his cousin Vincent "Vinny" Gambini (played by Joe Pesci), who just happens to be lawyer and who would represent them for free. When Vinny and his girlfriend Mona Lisa Vito (played by Marisa Tomei) arrive to Alabama, it turns out that Vinny, former Brooklyn mechanic, is nothing more than an inexperienced hack that have never set foot in the courtroom. To make things even more challenging for boys' defence, Judge Chamberlain Haller (played by Fred Gwynne) is authoritarian who demands strict following of Alabama criminal procedure - something that Vinny knows almost nothing about. But Vinny is not discouraged by such odds and begins to study the law and find some way to prove boys' innocence.

The "fish out of water" plot MY COUSIN VINNY indicates just another "high concept" comedy that would exploit same joke all over again. But the jokes in this comedy are plenty and the film, although never too hilarious, remains funny from the beginning to the end. This should be credited to Dale Launer, experienced comedy screenwriter who obviously found good collaborator in Jonathan Lynn. Launer's script is much more complex and it uses the opportunity to base humour on various regional and class differences in present-day USA. Yet, while doing so, it never takes sides and the film is un-offensive and lacks anything resembling villain. The result is comedy which is uplifting yet not over- sentimental. However, the real strength of the movie is in very good casting. Joe Pesci is truly great in one of his first truly comical roles while Marisa Tomei deserved her "Oscar" through excellent performance while playing Vinny's girlfriend. The other actors are also good, and Fred Gwynne with charismatic presence is quite memorable in his last role. Unfortunately, the casting wasn't perfect - Ralph Maccio is terribly bland and unconvincing. Lynn also showed less ability with pacing of the film - beginning is too slow, which results with almost two hours of running time, which is something quite rare for comedies in present-day Hollywood. Yet, those two hours are very pleasant experience for viewers and this film should be recommended to all those who yearn for the example of good comedy made in 1990s Hollywood.

Copyright 2002 Dragan Antulov

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