My Cousin Vinny is probably most known for the rumor/joke about Jack Palance (Companeros) mistakenly reading Marisa Tomei’s (Oscar) name, resulting in her getting an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress undeservedly. The film is a cable staple, still showing up on basic cable channels quite often (this reviewer himself watched it on FX Movies).
Directed by Jonathan Lynn (Clue), the film is an amusing but unexceptional comedy. New Yorkers and college freshmen Bill Gambini (Ralph Macchio, The Outsiders) and Stan Rothstein (professional TV Guest Star Mitchell Whitfield) are driving from New York to California. Unfortunately, due to a case of mistaken identity they are arrested in Alabama for the murder of a convenience store clerk. Bill’s mother sends his lawyer cousin Vinny (Joe Pesci, Casino) to defend him. Only, Vinny’s not just a fish-out-water, but he’s also never tried a case, never mind a murder-he only passed the bar six weeks earlier…on his sixth try. Can he, with the help of his fiancé Mona Lisa Vito (Tomei), learn the ropes of his profession and gain his bearings in time to save his cousin?
My Cousin Vinny is best when trading in dueling stereotypes and whenever Tomei, or the less acclaimed but just as scene-stealing Fred Gwynne (Car 54 Where Are You?), is in the scene. Gwynne plays a by-the-book judge who demands that Vinny straighten up and tone down his flamboyant style. The film is at its worst when it dips into the “sitcom comedy playbook” or moves into sentimental territory. The completely generic score by Randy Edelman (Drop Dead Fred) doesn’t help much in this department. Some excellent character actors round out the cast, including Lane Smith (Red Dawn) as the smarmy good-old-boy prosecutor, Austin Pendelton (Skidoo) as a stuttering public defender, and Bruce McGill (The Hand) as the sheriff. My Cousin Vinny is the perfect cable movie: good enough to amuse you if it’s on, not worth seeking out on its own merits.