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Movie Review: My Cousin Vinny

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Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei steal the show in My Cousin Vinny, the hit 1992 comedy based on a clash of cultures between North and South. When two college buddies from New York, Billy Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and Stan Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield) are mistakenly arrested for murder in Alabama, they find themselves in desperate need of a high-profile defense attorney. But lawyers can be costly, so the two friends enlist the help of Billy’s cousin, Vincent Gambini (Joe Pesci), a former auto mechanic from Brooklyn who has never practiced in a court of law and needed seven attempts to pass the New York City bar exam.

With Alabama prosecutors salivating for the death penalty, Vinny arrives in the heart of the Deep South with his Brooklyn hairdresser/auto mechanic girlfriend Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei). While roaming around town, the two learn about “mud in the tires,” grits, and regular crack-of-dawn sirens that “tell people it’s time to get up”. In hindsight, an entire movie could’ve been made from these scenes alone.

As the trial approaches, Vinny’s courtroom antics takeover the film as he engages in a power struggle with by-the-book judge Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne). In between procedural snafus and trips to the slammer for contempt of court, Vinny slowly develops his natural talent for litigation. But can he save Stan and Billy from the electric chair? And if so, can he save himself from the wrath of Judge Haller? It’s a whole lot of fun finding out!

In My Cousin Vinny, the interplay between Pesci and Gwynne is more than worthy of an Academy Award. But the Oscar went to Marisa Tomei for her brilliant portrayal of the flamboyant and likeable Mona Lisa Vito. The onscreen relationship between Pesci and Tomei is mesmerizing, enabling the creation of a comedy that’s rare in that it has a decent plot, no outlandish or ridiculous scenes, and a stream of hilarious lines throughout.

Written by Dale Launer, the screenwriter behind such hits as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) and Love Potion No. 9 (1992), My Cousin Vinny is the classic fish-out-of-water comedy. The writing for this film is superb, with a plethora of one-liners guaranteed to stick in your mind long after you’ve seen the film, but what really makes My Cousin Vinny a top-tier comedy is the sheer number of standout performances by the cast. Pesci and Tomei received plenty of accolades, and rightfully so, but Fred Gwynne and Mitchell Whitfield had a number of memorable scenes as well.

Probably the most hilarious scene in the film is when Stan is in jail, horrified at the prospect of being paired up with an affectionate cellmate. In his initial meeting with Stan, Vinny doesn’t clearly indicate that he’s Billy’s cousin. The dialogue that ensues between Stan and Vinny is one of the best comedic sequences in cinema history. It’s well complimented by Judge Chamberlain Haller’s confusion over the word “yoots.” Overall, this is an ingeniously hilarious comedy, and I give it my highest recommendation possible.

Britt's Rating: 9.5/10

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