Sunday, June 8, 2014
MY COUSIN VINNY
(March 1992, U.S.)
This film is a perfect example of one of those rare springtime films that comes along that manages to not only carry its weight alongside all others, but also carries itself along into the following summer and stands tall against many popular blockbusters. By Summer of 1992, when ALIEN 3, BATMAN RETURNS, and PATRIOT GAMES were topping the box office charts, MY COUSIN VINNY was still going strong enough for those of us who not only loved the film, but also wanted to see it again! I saw it twice.
Thinking of tough guy Joe Pesci in a role such as this brings several considerations of what's truly funny to mind - does the comedy really lie in the fact that a guy like Joe Pesci would be a lawyer, or is it the fact that he's a Brooklyn man trying to be a lawyer down south in Alabama (or as Pesci's character would say, "Ala-fucking-bama")! Hell, why try to choose? Joe Pesci playing a Brooklyn lawyer trying to practice and con his way through the procedures of the law down south in Alabama is a funny situation all the way around. As the fun begins, it's a simple misunderstanding of a convenience store tuna fish theft and murder that lands two college friends (one of them played by ex-Karate Kid Ralph Macchio) in jail in the deep south. Sure, it's funny on screen, but I'd be lying if such a premise didn't give this Jewish guy some pause at the thought of what could possibly happen to him driving down south in a car with New York plates on it. Sounds like prejudice? Perhaps, but even unfair prejudice doesn't necessarily constitute a situation that may not be realistic and valid.
(but I digress...)
So faster than you can say, "They sleep with their sisters" and "Some big guy named Bubba" comes along the potentially, life-saving attorney from the great (or not so great!) borough of Brooklyn, New York named Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (Pesci) and his sidekick fiancé Lisa Vito (played to perfection by Marisa Tomei) who's going to (hopefully) save these two young boys from the electric chair for the murder of a "good 'ol boy" they didn't commit. Trouble is, the guy's only been practicing law for almost six weeks and has no fucking idea what he's doing when it comes to the legalities of courtroom procedure. Add to that the fact that the judge on this case (played by ex-Herman Munster Fred Gwynne in his last film role) is coming down hard on Vinny for not knowing and following every step of the law only makes the boy's fate much worse - but that's part of the comedy and the fun. Consider also that this Brooklyn boy is in Alabama for the first time in his life and has to adjust to new concepts such as grits, muddy tires, early morning steam whistles, slaughtered pigs and a local idiot hell-bent and fighting him for the two hundred dollars he doesn't want to pay up. Not to mention Lisa's ticking biological clock! Let's not forget about that! Then, just when you think things couldn't get any worse for these two innocent boys, there's the stuttering public defender to deal with. Actually, this guy's one of the funniest elements of the film! Tell me you're not cracking up when this poor putz is standing in front of the jury trying to say the word PROSECUTION and ends up spitting all over them! You see what I mean? Murder, the law, execution and courtroom intrigue can, indeed, be funny as shit!
Like any courtroom situation, comedy or not, there always comes the pivotal moment when the proper clues and evidence come into play that will ultimately save and exonerate the innocent or condemn the guilty. In this case, it's a simple picture of muddy tire tracks in a small photo taken by Lisa with her little disc camera circa 1992 that saves the day. The whole film she's whining and bitching that she only wants to help out on this case and she finally does! In a rather involved sequence depicting the crucial differences between Michelin tires and the physical similarities between the boys 1964 Buick Skylark and the 1963 Pontiac Tempest belonging to the actual murderers, the case is solved, the innocent boys are set free, and the great Vincent LaGuardia Gambini has saved the day (Yay!!!)!
Now just when you think you know enough about a particular film to satisfy your own tastes for comedic cinema, you learn something new that opens your eyes just a little wider. Turns out that MY COUSIN VINNY is not just a great comedy, but is also well-respected by real lawyers for it's accuracy of courtroom procedures and is even used by legal textbooks. One law professor apparently describes the film as useful for discussing criminal procedure, courtroom decorum, professional responsibility, unethical behavior, the role of the judge in a trial, efficient cross-examination and the role of expert witnesses and effective trial advocacy. I even heard years later that LEGALLY BLONDE became a rather valid entity within the law school community and the law profession itself. Geez, no wonder lawyers continue to be the butt of many people's jokes!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Mona Lisa Vito: "Imagine you're a deer. You're prancing along, you get thirsty, you spot a little brook, you put your little deer lips down to the cool clear water...BAM! A fuckin' bullet rips off part of your head! Your brains are laying on the ground in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya...would you give a fuck what kind of pants the son of a bitch who shot you was wearing??"