Genre: Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs.
Release Date: March 13th, 1992 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jonathan Lynn Actors: Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei, Mitchell Whitfield, Fred Gwynne, Austin Pendleton, Bruce McGill, Maury Chaykin, James Rebhorn, Pauline Meyers
ill Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and his good buddy Stan Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield) drive through Beecham County, Alabama, a place where signs read “Dirt for Sale,” and “Free Horse Manure.” After departing from the Sac O Suds convenience store, where they stopped for some snacks, Bill notices that he accidentally stole a can of tuna – and jokingly wonders how “medieval” the judicial system is down South. Sure enough, the duo is pulled over by a cop a few minutes later and forced to exit their vehicle at shotgun-point.
As they’re corralled into Sheriff Farley’s (Bruce McGill) office, the two boys immediately cough up a confession, mistakenly believing they’ve been arrested for shoplifting. When Farley finally confronts them about the deadly shooting of Jimmy Willis – the shop clerk – they understandably panic, realizing the charges are actually burglary and first-degree murder. Fortunately, Bill has a cousin in New York who practices law.
In strolls Vincent Gambini (Joe Pesci), dressed in black leather and sunglasses, looking entirely out-of-place and certainly not like a professional litigator. He also admits to practicing law for a mere 6 weeks, having never gone to trial and only participating in personal injury cases. Nevertheless, he’s more than happy to defend Bill and his friend; but after an embarrassing arraignment, inappropriate clothing, a series of sleepless nights, and a lack of knowledge when it comes to austere courtroom procedures, the public defender might have been a better choice for the accused.
“My Cousin Vinny” is perhaps best known for its supporting performances, headlined by a young Marisa Tomei as Vincent’s fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito. She’s a sassy, outspoken, dark-haired beauty with strong opinions, supportive attitude (when not purposely sarcastic), and pink camera always at the ready (photographing everything like a true tourist). She also sports colorful changes in wardrobe as if she’s trying to be a contemporary Annie Hall. And it all works quite superbly for her, embellishing a sensational turn that would win her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Following Tomei’s lead is the judge, played by Fred Gwynne of “The Munsters” fame, who literally throws the book at Vinny (a hefty volume of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Defense that nearly outweighs the tiny Pesci). Wide-eyed Ralph Macchio, James Rebhorn as an automobile specialist, Lane Smith as the prosecuting attorney, and a stuttering public defender – played by character actor Austin Pendleton – are also noteworthy. Finally, Joe Pesci delivers a brilliant comedic turn as the titular character, a genuinely emoted part full of wit and heart, that best represents the comedy roles he would take on in alternation with darker gangster stints throughout his career.
This well-rounded comedy also manages to work in some memorable slapstick, hilarious sight gags, a rousing round of tearing apart the prosecutor’s witnesses, and carefully scripted dialogue. The film goes through the majority of the trial process, leaving out almost nothing, which intelligently and humorously examines each piece of the puzzle. Although the courtroom manners are archaic (to match the noticeably ‘90s, thumping soundtrack), the verbal buffoonery is supremely funny (with a demented twist), especially during an early jail rape innuendo exchange that’s carried out just long enough to be comedically valid. And, thanks to director Jonathan Lynn’s own legal expertise, a level of authenticity amusingly lingers amidst the drama, clever personas, alluring storyline, and convivial performances.
– Mike Massie