My Blue Heaven Reviews
I don't know how we didn't get this when I was a kid. Perhaps Webster's didn't have a copy. I know Mom isn't all that into Steve Martin, though Elaine and I very much were, but it still seems like the sort of thing we would have picked up on a deathly hot summer afternoon. It's silly. It's a fish-out-of-water story featuring two people in a ridiculous situation. Heck, even the fact that it has Joan Cusack in it indicates that it's probably the sort of thing we would enjoy. Still, this remained one of those movies I'd heard of but never seen until now. Even as an adult, I hadn't quite gotten around to it myself, but then, most of the movie-renting I've done over the years has either been while I was living in Port Angeles--not exactly known for a wide range of possibilities--or else has been part of my alphabet project. While I did get through "M" some time ago, I knew enough to save this one until I wasn't too thoughtful.
Vinnie Antonelli (Steve Martin) is a mobster. He has agreed to testify against his higher-ups, and of course this means that he has ended up in the Witness Protection Program. His case is being handled by FBI agent Barney Coopersmith (Rick Moranis), and we'll get to that in a bit. At any rate, Vinnie is now living in a small suburb of San Diego, California, and it's really starting to get to him. He is arrested several times for petty crimes, running afoul of District Attorney Hannah Stubbs (Cusack). Barney gets him out repeatedly, because if he is arrested, it will blow the FBI's case against Vinnie's former associates. Vinnie spots that Barney and Hannah will make a nice couple and works toward that end. Barney works toward getting Vinnie through his testimony and safe from the hitmen that his former mob associates are wont to send after those who betray their secrets. Vinnie, however, doesn't know what to do when he isn't running criminal enterprises, so that's what he does.
Apparently, Vinnie is based on the life of Henry Hill, who was also portrayed by Ray Liotta in the rather more serious film [i]Goodfellas[/i]. While this film doesn't explore the full reign of Hill's stupidity, it does touch on perhaps my favourite thing about him. This is why Hill ended up leaving the Witness Protection Program, at least according to his cookbook. (Yes, he wrote a cookbook, which isn't bad. It's also a bit of an autobiography, and it's what convinced me that his stupidity wasn't invented for dramatic purposes in [i]Goodfellas[/i].) Vinnie was sent to the suburbs of San Diego, which is admittedly very different from New York. However, Henry Hill was sent to the Midwest. There were, even in 1990, plenty of places not terribly far from San Diego where a person could get all sorts of ingredients of the kind Henry Hill wanted. Kansas, where I believe he was actually sent? Not so much. So he left because he was tired of the food options.
Of course, Vinnie has rather more of a point when he suggests that part of the issue is that he has no other skills to draw upon. Henry Hill dropped out of high school at fourteen to go to work for the mob, and there's no reason to assume that Vinnie has much more schooling than that. There's no reason to believe that Vinnie has any marketable skills beyond the illegal ones. Schooling isn't one of the things Witness Protection seems to offer. And you know, even if they did, I'm not sure Vinnie would be all that interested. What is he suited for? It's a grim thought, but I really don't know what Vinnie would be able to do. That's mostly, however, because I don't think he's ever put any thought into it. The very idea that there is a different life from the one to which he is accustomed is an idea that has never crossed his mind. I mean, he still seems to think that he deserves to be taken care of for the rest of his life because he's admitted to the crimes in which he was involved.
There is also the FBI thing. Witness Protection isn't run by the FBI. As I thought everyone knew, it's run by the Federal Marshals. Every once in a while, it seems as though screenwriters (even talented ones like Nora Ephron) think all feds are created equal. There's no real reason for this to be the FBI. I mean, I'm pleased that Barney's partner, Kirby, is Bill Irwin, better known as Mr. Noodle--and he does a bit of a Noodle dance at the end! However, despite the fact that Ephron was married to Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote the book and screenplay for [i]Goodfellas[/i], the movie gets a lot of the details wrong. This isn't a huge problem, given that it's a silly little comedy, but it still kind of bothers me. Mr. Noodle just isn't enough to make up for that. No, the details aren't all important--though all those mob guys in one little town would never happen--but it certainly strikes me that it would be easy to get those details right, too. That's usually my problem with these things.
VERDICT: "High-Quality Stuff" - [Positive Reaction] This is a rating to a movie I view as very entertaining and well made, and definitely worth paying the full price at a theatre to see or own on DVD. It is not perfect, but it is definitely excellent. (Films that are rated 3.5 or 4 stars)
Here's the thing: it's not a terrible movie, but it's not really that good or reaches its full potential. I still kinda liked it though, or at least a lot of it. It's not boring, but it ultimately fails to deliver where it should be absolutely awesome. Maybe it has to do with the fact that this is a mob comedy that happens to involve Nora Ephron who at the time was married to Nick Pilleggi who was involved with a similar mob film that came out around the same time: Goodfellas.
There's some good jokes and funny moments, but it really just feels like everyone is relying on the material to do most of the heavy lifting for them, and they just kinda sit back and phone it in a lot of times. Granted, Martin is pretty funny as the smarmy mobster, but it comes off as a flimsy caricature more often than not. Actually, that pretty much applies to the film overall.
I was shocked that this fell so flat. And It bugs me even more since I really can't figure out why this film didn't pan out as it should have. You could see this, as it works as the sort of thing that's good to watch late at night after a long day of work where you just need to kill some brain cells, but it's okay if you don't, as a lot of this is ridiculously predictable and unsurprising.
This movie is just that: Happy. It's a farcical send up of mob movies in general and it succeeds so well. If you take this movie at face value, as a joke meant to make you laugh, it will give you all the enjoyment you need for ninety seven minutes of your life.
The title refers to the blue sky, green grass, white picket fence suburbia that Vinnie Antonelli (Martin), a mob informant under the protection of the F.B.I.'s witness protection program, gets trasnplanted to. Unable to cope with his new existence and his rigid, by-the-books case officer, Barney Coopersmith (Moranis), he reverts to a life of crime with the help of other transplanted informants from his old life. Like a big fish in a little naive pond, everyone is a goldfish and Vinny and his newfound cohorts are a school of experienced piranhas. All isn't well of course, as his previous employers are trying to prevent him from reaching his court date and it's up to Barney, who's having trouble coping with him, to save him.
The plot is enough for this movie to hang it's hat on. The real gems here are the characters and the energy with which the actors and actresses take to playing them. Steve Martin gives such an over-the-top performance that his hard to dislike Vinnie and Moranis plays his usual frustrated to confident underdog so well that you want to see him succeed like he does in the end. You like these characters. You find yourself thinking by the end that you wouldn't mind meeting them as real people.
Same goes for the rest of the cast of characters. Joan Cusack's District Attorney, Hannah Stubbs, starts as obnoxious and antagonistic as comedy characters can get but you get to see behind her mask and you can't help but like where she ends up. Bill Irwin ingratiates himself with the audience by doing nothing more than dancing most of the time and Bill Hickey is just perfect as the cantankerous old cronie that reminds you of your grandfather...if he had been in the mob anyway.
This isn't the best comedy every seen but it is a great one. It's silly and tongue-in-cheek at times. It has sentiment and caring. It's a good show. If I ever catch it on TV, I can't help but sit and watch.
Entertaiment Value - 1 1/2 Stars: What can I say. I love this movie and I'm ashamed it isn't in my collection.
Storytelling - 1 Star: Even for a somewhat tried and true genre, it pulls some surprises due to the fact that it is a comedy.
Characters and Dialogue - 1 Star: It's the best part of the movie.
Production Value - 1/2 Star: It has an almost surreal quality sometimes to the way suburbia "looks." So...clean.
Direction and Editing - 1: I honestly can't see how they could do anything different really.
[BTW, just to kind of point it out, and please correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that this movie really influenced later mob-themed movies with it's comedy such as Gun Shy and Analyze This. Am I wrong...was there anything quite like this before My Blue Heaven?]