My Cousin Vinny
My Cousin Vinny combines a good dose of Northeastern pomposity and Southern ignorance to produce a great comedy.
Reviewed by Eli Kooris, Fri., June 1, 2001
MY COUSIN VINNY
D: Jonathan Lynn (1992); with Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, Ralph Macchio, Fred Gwynne.
My Cousin Vinny takes stereotypical characters and sets them in an odd environment, a situation that lays the ground work for jokes throughout the rest of the film. Others of this variety -- like The Beverly Hillbillies and Encino Man -- exhaust that gag down to a mere hiccup of laughter by their 90-minute finales, yet in this film, the mockery of Southerners and Northeasterners never seems to grow old. The story is simple but quirky: Two New Yorkers, Bill and Stan, are driving cross-country on their way out to UCLA graduate school and decide to detour through the mythical Deep South town of Wazoo, Ala. While at a convenience store picking up supplies for the road, Bill (Macchio, looking confused and very un-Karate Kid-like with his wispy moustache) accidentally pockets a can of tuna fish and admits to his blunder minutes later when they are pulled over by state police. What the two Yankees don't know is that they are admitting to the murder of the convenience store clerk who, coincidentally, was killed moments after they drove away by two people matching their description. Rather than use a stuttering public defender as their trial lawyer, Bill calls his cousin Vinny Gambini (Pesci, sharp tongue and all) who screeches into town dressed in all black with his firecracker of a girlfriend Mona Lisa Vito (Tomei) and a mere six months of legal experience. Together the two Italian-Americans make tidal waves in the genteel Southern town, argue incessantly about completely mundane topics (reminiscent of Seinfeld episodes), and generally offend everyone they encounter. The chemistry between Pesci and Tomei (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for what may be the best performance of her career) borders on perfect comedic acting. Writer Dale Launer (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) keeps the story line engaging; the plot isn't just a downtime between jokes. Director Jonathan Lynn, however, does little more than regulate pace to keep things realistic, and his obnoxious soundtrack selections add to the discomfort between scenes, one of the film's minor faults. Five years later, when Lynn tried to duplicate the success of this film, he produced the subpar Trial and Error. Yet My Cousin Vinny combines a good dose of Northeastern pomposity and Southern ignorance to produce a great comedy.