My Cousin Vinny’s “R” rating kept us from sharing this favorite with the boys until now, even though – having just recently gotten around to a family screening – the only thing that might make the film objectionable is ripe language (no sex, no violence).
Actually, that’s not quite true since the storyline is kicked off with a murder. Specifically, the clerk at a local quickie-mart in rural Alabama is bumped off during a robbery, and blame falls on a pair of New York college kids (played by Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield) who had just stopped by the shop during a cross-country drive in their mint-green GM convertible.
After being arrested and accidentally confessing to a crime (albeit, not the homicide they are accused of), Macchio decides to call home for rescue and is alerted that his cousin Vinny – a newly minted attorney – is on the way.
If the two accused boys were fish out of water, they have nothing on Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) and his leather-clad fiancé Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei in an Oscar winning performance) who roll into town completely unready for the local culture or courts.
This becomes apparent when the judge presiding over the case (played by the incomparable Fred Gwynne, sans monster makeup) repeatedly scolds Attorney Gambini for his informal attire, inability to comprehend (much less follow) procedure, and frequent curse-laden outbursts – some of which land Pesci in the same jail as his clients for contempt of court.
But after a slow start, Vinny finally gets the chance to shine as he demolishes one witness after another with a mix of goomba and chutzpah anyone who has ever traveled through Brooklyn will find immediately recognizable. The prosecution eventually decides to fall back on evidence supplied by an FBI expert in automobile-related forensics, much to their dismay when Vinny’s fiancé is forced to take the stand.
As much as I continue to enjoy this picture (now through my children’s eyes), in retrospect it does seem as though the script was written backwards from a few (admittedly show-stopping) courtroom scenes. That said, every scene in which Pesci and Tomei interact is pure magic, more than making up for the implausibility of the key conceit in this high-concept comedy (would a law school graduate, even a totally green one, really have never heard of “discovery?”).
The fantastic nature of such a scenario may explain why I found that aforementioned R-rated language so jarring. For the multiple F-bombs dropped by the leads placed them squarely in the vulgarity-laden tough-guy genre that have become Pesci’s trademark in films like Goodfellas and Casino, not in the semi-fantasy world of this much gentler storyline.
So, I don’t know. Ben – what do you think?Ben Replies: Regardless of plot holes and ridiculous moments, Vinny is undeniably hilarious. Everything about this film has you laughing at every turn. The film is perfectly cast, especially the leather-clad duo of Vinny and Mona and the script is perfectly riotous. How can even the stiffest fellow not bust a gut when Pesci’s character brings the cooking time of grits to question on the stand? As a courtroom drama, however, this flick is only alright. A scene involving the identification of tire tracks was incredibly clever (and probably scored Tomei’s her Oscar). But if the goal was to make A Few Good Men with an incredible underdog winning his first case, that case was kind of open and shut and, without the comedy, could be criticized for being boring. So all in all, I agree with your thoughts on the film.