My Cousin VinnyMy Cousin Vinny


Gannett News Service
Tuesday, March 10, 1992

OH 'VINNY' YOU'RE SO FINE
By Jack Garner

"My Cousin Vinny" is a very funny, fish-out-of-water comedy about an utterly inexperienced Brooklyn lawyer, defending his cousin in an Alabama murder trial.
Joe Pesci is hilarious as Vinny, a leather-jacketed novice attorney, as street-smart as he is law-book-dumb. It took him six years to get out of law school, and more than a half-dozen attempts at the bar, before passing it. Wait, it gets worse: He's never even tried a case before, let alone a murder case.

Vinny receives the call as a sort of family emergency, after his college-age cousin, Bill, (Ralph Macchio) and the boy's roommate, Stan, (Mitchell Whitfield) are both arrested while driving though rural Alabama, falsely accused of killing a convenience store clerk.

Once Vinny arrives on the scene, however, and shows immense ineptitude, bill and Stan are not so sure family ties are enough reason to keep THIS guy as their attorney. But Vinny works hard to try to win the case - and their respect - despite the vast, Deep South cultural abyss into which he believes he's fallen.

Along for the ride - and to provide equal parts of support and nagging - is Vinny's outspoken fiancée, Lisa (Marisa Tomei). And providing most of the obstacles in Vinny's path is the by-the-book Alabama Judge Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne).

Screenwriter Dale Launer, who also wrote "Ruthless People" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," here offers a witty, surprisingly rich script that expands the story well beyond the one-joke premise at its core. Part of the richness comes with the extensive by-play in two volatile combinations: Between Vinny and his equally explosive fiancée, Lisa; and between Vinny and the wise, wily Judge Haller.

The film's secret ingredient is Marisa Tomei (who played Lisa Bonet's kooky roommate in the first year of TV's "A Different World"). As Lisa, she's a gritty, aggressive perfect match for Vinny, and matches him expression for expression and expletive for expletive. It's as if "My Cousin Vinny" gives viewers two Joe Pescis for the price of one.

Veteran character actor Fred Gwynne is also wonderful, and different sort of adversary for Vinny, adding intelligence and common sense to the proceedings, as well as a fairly stern outlook on life. His reactions to Vinny's antics are particularly memorable.

Pesci, meanwhile, is at his best, fulfilling the comic promise of "Home Alone," and allowing viewers to forget the not-so-super "Super." His Vinny is more multidimensional and "human" than one might expect from what could have been a cardboard parody performance. But he's also hilarious, especially as he careens from one set-back to another, from the judge's rejections of his clothes in the courtroom, to the rooster crows and other rural noises that awaken him at dawn each day.

Writer Launer and English director Jonathan Lynn ("Nuns on the Run") also are to be lauded for taking a relatively high road in their approach to the film's comic material. Although humor abounds, it's never really through ridicule of either New York or southern lifestyles, or through presentations of cliché characters or situations.

And a lawyer friend even tells me he found the courtroom segments more natural and believable than he's seen in some for-more-prestige judicial dramas.

You won't, however, be watching this film for courtroom behavior, but for lots of laughs. And "My Cousin Vinny" wins that case, with no need of appeal.

Rated R, entirely for profanity, which Pesci and Tomei elevate to high comic art.

MY COUSIN VINNY (R, profanity) Three-and-a-Half Stars (Good-to-Excellent)
A very funny, fish-out-of-water comedy about an utterly inexperienced Brooklyn lawyer, defending his cousin in an Alabama murder trial. Joe Pesci is hilarious as Vinny, a leather-jacketed novice attorney, as street-smart as he is law-book-dumb. Ralph Macchio, Mitchell Whitfield, and especially Fred Gwynne and Marisa Tomei are excellent in support. Jonathan Lynn directs. Twentieth Century Fox. 119 minutes.



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Gallery

Photos from the film production

 
Quotes
´I think most writers tend to write about their youth. Or, as they say in MY COUSIN VINNY, their "yute". I think that´s the best movie ever made, don´t you?´

-- David Mamet
New York Times,
November. 18. 1994.
 
Feature Articles

"'Vinny,' 'Jump' score in Fox sneak previews"
by Martin A. Grove
(The Hollywood Reporter/Hollywood Report, Thursday, March 5, 1992)

"The skinny on 'Vinny': Prod'n team's a vinner"
by Martin A. Grove
(The Hollywood Reporter/Hollywood Report, Friday, March 6, 1992)

"A Director's British Eye on the South"
by Bernard Weinraub
(The New York Times, March 22, 1992)

 
Reviews

"Oh 'Vinny' you're so fine"
by Jack Garner
(Gannett News Service, Tuesday, March 10, 1992)

"A flashy new lawyer in an unflashy town"
by Vincent Canby
(The New York Times, The Living Arts, Friday, March 13, 1992)


Copyright © 2011 Jonathan Lynn. All rights reserved.