MY BLUE HEAVEN Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Joan Cusack, Carol Kane, Melanie Mayron. Directed by Herbert Ross. 1990. Rated PG-13. (Warner tape, 96 min., Hi-Fi stereo, $92.95)
"GoodFellas," based on the book and screenplay by Nick Pileggi, ends with someone going into the federal witness protection program and relocating to Middle America.
"My Blue Heaven," written by Pileggi's good friend Nora Ephron, takes up, in a way, where the other movie leaves off -- with the new life of a middle-rank gangster renamed Todd in a place where the skies are not cloudy all day and there are no means streets, glitzy dames or arugula.
Despite a few great visual gags -- mostly involving send-ups of the mall and clean-ness mania of the burbs and a deft performance by Moranis as Martin's straight man -- "My Blue Heaven" feels labored and over-cute. Not only is Martin's character irritating -- there's too much real crime around these days for a mobster to get automatic chuckles -- but Martin never really gets into this character's skin.
The mannerisms are all there -- the dopey facial tics, the gangly hipster dance-walk, even a stand-up hair-do -- but the vocal rhythms and accent are only intermittently Italian. It's a parody of a type that is close to self-parody to begin with. We miss the note of melancholy, the inner gravity, that infuses Martin's greatest performances and made movies such as "The Man With Two Brains," "All of Me" and "Roxanne" emotional as well as comic tours de force.
Cusack, usually seen in eccentric character parts, is miscast as the uptight assistant district attorney. There is no sexual sparkle in her scenes with either Martin or Moranis. As usual, the real chemistry is between the two men, in one of those duets in which two extremes -- the straight-arrow Boy Scout and the street-wise mobster -- meet somewhere in the middle and transform each other.
Moranis' performance and a number of jolly moments under Ross' direction make this a modest value for an evening's rental. It also has a certain nostalgic quality: With its shallow pastels, '50s songs and fancy dancing, the movie seems to evoke not just another America, but another period.
Molly Haskell is the author of "From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in Film."
VIDEO REVIEW MAGAZINE THE WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP