MY COUSIN VINNY
Released in 1992, My Cousin Vinny is a comedy starring Joe Pesci as a lawyer who is called in by a young family member to represent him in court as he is being wrongly accused of murder in rural Alabama. Having just passed the bar after many attempts, Vinny quickly finds that he is vastly unprepared for such an important case.
My Cousin Vinny was a hit at the box-office upon its release, as well as critically, and it even earned then relative newcomer Marisa Tomei an Academy Award for her show-stealing performance as Vinny's fiancée Mona Lisa Vito. The film opens with Bill and Stan, two college students who briefly stop by a convenience store at a gas station to pick up some snacks. They drive away after that and, just as Bill (Ralph Macchio) realizes he accidentally stole a can of tuna, they are pulled over and arrested by the police.
They eventually find out that they are not being held for shoplifting but murder since they match witnesses' description of two people who went into the same store, at around the same time, and killed the clerk. Thinking that his cousin Vinny has enough experience to deal with such a case, Bill calls him up to ask for help and a series of faux pas on the lawyer's part follows as he constantly clashes with the judge, played by an excellent Fred Gwynne in the final movie role before his death.
Vinny's struggle to even get started on the case makes everyone from his fiancée to the defendants increasingly nervous and they all start to doubt his abilities. It becomes up to the fish-out-of-water, straight talking New Yorker couple to prove themselves in front of the unfriendly court. Vinny's shambolic beginnings are both excruciating and hilarious as Joe Pesci plays Vinny as cocky yet clearly out of his depth which creates an entertaining contrast with Gwynne's stern, by-the-book judge. The first few rounds of the trial are a beautiful disaster as Vinny is either half asleep, unaware of protocol, wearing the wrong suit, coming in late, you name it, which gets him thrown in contempt more than once. Both Vinny and Mona Lisa's potential becomes obvious eventually but their uphill battle makes the trial itself a pretty tense affair, especially since two innocent young adults' lives are at stake.
The cast is terrific from top to bottom, with Joe Pesci effortlessly delivering charm and wiseguy in exactly the right doses while Marisa Tomei shines, especially in the film's climax when her character is put on the stand. It is a shame, however, that Ralph Macchio was cast in what initially feels like an important role but gradually translates into less and less screen time to the point where casting a lesser known actor would have made more sense. Lane Smith and Fred Gwynne offer expert support and certainly bring the goods as the main antagonists.
The thing that really sells this movie, though, is the sharp and very funny writing: Dale Launer's script is, quite simply, a perfect script. As the time runs out for our heroes, you almost expect Vinny to lose the case and then break the defendants out of jail, or something over-the-top like that, but the writing never devolves into farce, instead putting all its faith in its main characters and making a convincing case for them (no pun intended).
My Cousin Vinny is one of those classic feel-good comedies you can just put on at any time and have just as much fun as you did the first time seeing it. It's funny, sweet, suspenseful in its own way and, like the film's heroes, deceptively quite clever.