HUGH GRANT should look back on 1999 as the year of "Notting Hill," the entertaining romantic comedy he starred in with Julia Roberts. He was charming, affable and amusing. And the movie scored big at the box office.
But he should consider hypnotic therapy to help him forget "Mickey Blue Eyes," a third-rate, married-to-the-mob comedy.
The story has Grant playing an art dealer in New York who falls in love with Gina (Jeanne Tripplehorn), who happens to be connected to the Mafia -- or rather, a Central Casting roll call of tired Italian American stereotypes.
"Mickey Blue Eyes" was produced by Simian Films, the production company headed by Grant and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Hurley. The company name seems unfortunately apt since the movie makes a complete monkey out of Grant.
As Michael Felgate, he's an English cheap joke: a prim, polite, cute and quippy lad who hems and haws his way through Little Italy. At least, that's the ill-fated idea.
Initially, Michael has no idea about his girlfriend's connections. So he's mystified when she rejects his marriage proposal for undisclosed reasons. She doesn't want to get him involved with her family, but she can't tell him why.
He's so determined to win her heart, however, he decides to appeal to her father. He learns -- little by little -- that Pops is Frank Vitale (James Caan), a big-time mobster who's connected to the even scarier, infamous Vito Graziosi (Burt Young). Frank is so touched by Michael's visit, he all but finalizes the wedding. Of course, this is the tie that binds. It's just a matter of time before Frank is asking Michael to do him, you know, a couple of favors.
To cut short a lot of tiresome plot, Michael (and his auction house) finds himself involuntarily sucked into the ugly business of extortion, murder and money laundering. He's also sucked into the even uglier business of forced comedy. There's a whole routine in which Frank teaches Michael how to talk like a Goodfella. When Michael tries that all-important phrase "Fuggedaboudit," he sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger's geeky brother. It's about as funny as digging your own grave in an unmarked part of New Jersey.
As Michael gets more involved with his potential in-laws, he tries to keep Gina in the dark, which means the central romance -- and any comic opportunity for romantic jousting -- is gone. But then screenwriters Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn fare so badly with the Grant-Tripplehorn scenes, this is probably just as well.
When Michael proposes to Gina in a Chinese restaurant, for instance, he slips some money to the proprietor to make his proposal "turn up" inside a fortune cookie. Gina doesn't play along by opening her cookie. So the proprietor of the restaurant gets very belligerent and pushy, until finally she yells expletives at the bewildered Gina.
Meanwhile, the cookie in question ends up at a different table. When the wrong woman opens it and says yes to her dinner partner, she's immediately rejected because he had no intention of proposing. The scene's meant to be cute and funny, but instead it's rather nasty, with a restaurant full of heartbreak, ill will and outright cursing. And at that point, the movie's only just begun.
MICKEY BLUE EYES (PG-13, 110 minutes) -- Contains profanity and implied violence. Area theaters.