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This movie won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Marisa Tomei.)

‘My Cousin Vinny’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 16, 1992

"My Cousin Vinny" really isn't a Japanese guy with a skunk on his head -- that's just Joe Pesci in Madame Butterfly's makeup. With his eyes pulled taut under a hairpiece the size of Kyoto, he looks more like an extra in a Godzilla movie than a failed Brooklyn attorney. The amazing thing is that Pesci manages to pull this uneven farce out of the doldrums anyhow.

Weighed down by a dull setup featuring Ralph "Karate Kid" Macchio, the movie gets a much-needed charge from Pesci, a bundle of bandy-legged impudence as Macchio's lawyer cousin, Vincent Gambini. An ambulance chaser who has never been inside a courtroom before, Vincent agrees to defend his cousin and a friend who have stupidly confessed to a murder they didn't commit. The case against the "two yoots," as Vinny refers to the young defendants, is full of holes, but it's enough to test Vincent, a legal hack who is transformed when he finds he's actually pretty good at dis trial stuff.

Vinny receives enormous help in his preparations from his anxious-to-wed fiancee, played with refreshing streetwisdom by Marisa Tomei. Much deserving of a second shot after starring opposite Sylvester Stallone in "Oscar" last year, Tomei crackles and pops all over the screen. She's got a figure like a Pepsi-Cola "uh-huh" girl, but the couple's chief attraction is that both enjoy arguing as foreplay. A saucy fuss over a dripping faucet sets them on each other like fruit flies on ripe bananas.

Britain's Jonathan Lynn of "Nuns on the Run" probably wouldn't know a Moon Pie from a pecan cluster, but he was chosen to direct this Wazhoo City, Ala.-set, all too stereotypically insulting screenplay by Dale Launer. The author of "Ruthless People," another comedy about a funny runt of an Italian American, Launer doesn't play off size, but regionalism. All too often, the jokes are about grits, mud or slow-witted Southerners "who sleep with their sisters," which is not to say that New Yawkers will be particularly flattered by how they are drawn. Past that, though, there are some belly laughs in Launer's running gags as well as some hilarious surprises. And there's a nice moral about having faith in your family. The point being, I guess, that if you have a Cousin Vinny and a phone, you have a lawyer.

"My Cousin Vinny" is rated R for language.

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