Hugh Grant as a mobster: Fuggedaboutit!
Grant has been typecast as Mr. Tweedy Pants, a boyish British ladies' man with an abundance of charm, a ready wit and the cutest little stammer. Undoubtedly endearing, these traits have served him well in romantic comedies like "Notting Hill," but are too wide-eyed and foppish for the testosterone- driven world of "Mickey Blue Eyes."
Like "Analyze This" and HBO's breakout series "The Sopranos," Grant's movie sends up the brio of gangster life and questions the culture's values. But it hardly measures up to either of these sagas built on the declining clout of the Mafia and the increasing dysfunctionality of the traditional crime family.
"Mickey Blue Eyes" merely recycles gangland movie mythology and Italian American pop standards as well as many of the thuggish character actors who have made a career out of portraying the Vitos and Vinnies of this much-parodied underworld, where the restaurants all serve spaghetti and there's a body in every trunk.
Michael Felgate (Grant), an English art auctioneer, gets mixed up with the mob through his fiancee, Gina Vitale (Jeanne Tripplehorn), a schoolteacher who turns out to be a Mafia princess. At first, she refuses Michael's proposal for fear that another boyfriend might be corrupted by her family's business.
Michael assures her that this could never happen to one so savvy as he, but before you can say "Wait a minute, what's that horse doing in my bed," the bumbling Brit is laundering mob money through his auction house. The movie's title comes from the appallingly silly series of scenes in which Gina's charming father, Frank the Juice Man (James Caan), attempts to teach him gangland lingo so he can pull off an impersonation of Little Big Mickey Blue Eyes out of Kansas City. But he just sputters like a stub of candle in a wax-covered Chianti bottle.
The FBI becomes involved when the psychotic son of Don Vito Graziosi (Burt Young) gets whacked. The ensuing high jinks also involve Gina's slow-witted brother (Paul Lazar) and a genial henchman (Joe Viterelli of "Analyze This" and "Bullets Over Broadway"). Along with Caan, these veteran goodfellas lend some meat to the thin sauce whipped up by writers Adam Scheinman ("Little Big League") and Robert Kuhn ("The Cure"). (Grant, rumored to have clashed with director Kelly Makin of "Brain Candy: The Kids in the Hall," regularly tinkered with the screenplay.)
For all practical purposes, Michael's friendship with Frank takes precedence over his affection for Gina, who is really a device to bring fiance and father together. Tripplehorn spends so little time on screen that she could have been replaced by a potted plant and nobody would have been the wiser.
It's the chemistry between Caan and Grant that generates some electricity here. And while they do make a charming couple, it's not the one we came to see.
Mickey Blue Eyes (103 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for coarse language and brief violence.
CAPTION: Hugh Grant plays an art auctioneer whose Mafia princess bride (Jeanne Tripplehorn) fades in comparison to her charming daddy (James Caan).
CAPTION: Hugh Grant is drafted into the mob in "Mickey Blue Eyes."