Basic Movie Plot #2 is the fish out of water, and that is because it works so well. Whether we’re talking about a mermaid coming to Manhattan, a guy from the Australian outback coming to Manhattan, or Dorothy in Oz, we are easily engaged by stories like these because they have automatic tension and conflict and because they give us a chance to look at ourselves and our culture in new ways. It was only a few months ago that we had two fish out of water in “Analyze This,” with a Jewish psychologist and a Mafia wiseguy each entering the other’s world. Now we have a very similar theme in “Mickey Blue Eyes,” except this time it’s a wiseguy and a very proper English art auctioneer. I’m sure it sounded great in the pitch meeting, but then the pitch probably left out the tired and pedestrian script and a couple of astonishingly poor plot developments that thwart the movie’s many efforts to win us over.
Hugh Grant, as the auctioneer who falls in love with the daughter of a Mafioso, does his best, and he is, as ever, a pleasure to watch. And there are some clever lines and some funny moments. But a romantic comedy, even a fairly broad one, needs to have essentially likeable characters and a consistent tone, and this movie fails in both. Near the beginning, Grant’s character tries to sneak a marriage proposal into a fortune cookie, but the scene becomes unfunny and ultimately downright nasty as the owner of the restaurant shrieks at Grant’s girlfriend (Jeanne Tripplehorn to eat the cookie and at another table another woman gets the proposal and then bursts into tears when she finds out it is a mistake. Later, a rather unsavory character is shot by mistake and it is supposed to be humorous that Grant and his future father-in-law (James Caan, reprising his Sonny role) bond over disposing of the body. Meanwhile, there are many missed opportunities for follow-through on set- ups, an indication of a movie that spent a lot of time in post-production revisions.
Parents should know that this movie includes violence and crime played for comedy. It also raises more serious issues, including the importance of honesty with those you love and the risks of making even small compromises in integrity, well worth discussing for anyone who ends up sitting through the whole thing.