Classic Movie Review: My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Posted: March 5, 2017 in Comedy
Tags: , ,

my-cousin-vinny

Bill Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and Stan Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield) are college friends driving through Alabama when they are arrested for murdering a store clerk.  Bill and Stan give confusing statements to the police and realize they need a lawyer.  A good lawyer costs 50-100 thousand dollars, but Bill’s mother knows of a lawyer in the family, Bill’s cousin Vinny. (Joe Pesci) Vinny brings his fiancé Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) along for the ride. But Vinny’s defense of Bill and Stan gets off to a bumpy start, he gets held in contempt of court twice, by Judge Chamberlain Haller, (Fred Gwynne)  and asks no questions at the pre-trial hearing, so Bill and Stan consider using the public defender, John Gibbons (Austin Pendleton) but they decide to retain Vinny after he gets some concessions from the first eyewitness.  Vinny continues to punch holes in the prosecution case, but then the prosecution calls George Wilbur (James Rebhorn) an FBI expert on tire treads who says the tire treads on Bill and Stan’s car is the only car that can make the tire tracks at the murder scene. Can anyone counter this damning testimony?  Will Bill and Stan be convicted of murder?

This is a classic fish out of water story, a culture clash between East Coast Italians and Southern Baptists.  Stereotypes abound, especially Italian American stereotypes, but Hollywood seems to revel in stereotypes.  The saving grace of this movie is that it’s laugh-out-loud funny, for example there is a running gag in this movie, and an actual payoff to the running gag. Also, Vinny and Mona Lisa actually evolve beyond their stereotypes, and watching these characters grow and evolve is what makes this film a classic.

The acting is very good.  Pesci shows great comedic timing which should be no surprise to anyone who has seen Goodfellas.  Tomei is laugh out loud funny as Lisa Vito, she won an Oscar for her performance, and deservedly so, although she does lay the Italian New York accent on a bit too thickly.  Fred Gwynne plays it straight most of the time, but there are moments when I see that Herman Munster twinkle in his eye.  He is perfect in this role.  “What is a yoot?” he asks Pesci. This is one of many classic lines in this movie. Ralph Macchio has very little to do in this movie, well after his success in the Karate Kid movies.

Johnathan Lynn is the director here.  He’s a British director, who’s done The Whole 9 Yards, but little else of note.  He doesn’t really do anything visual in this film, a couple of low angle shots and that’s it.  But he keeps the pacing going along quickly, and gets good performances from Tomei, Pesci, and Gwynne, and ties up the loose ends nicely.

My Cousin Vinny:  Pesci bellies up to the bar.

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