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On March 13, 1992, 20th Century Fox introduced My Cousin Vinny in theaters, featuring Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei (who claimed a best supporting actor win at the 65th Academy Awards for her role). The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
You can take the guy out of Brooklyn but not Brooklyn out of the guy, even in Alabama. A comedy about a brash, big-city Yankee who drops into a small Southern town to plead a case — no, we’re not talking about Pat Buchanan’s political foray into Mississippian this week — My Cousin Vinny is a terrific variation on the fish-out-of-water/man-from-Mars story formula.
Starring Joe Pesci as a slicker in the land of grits, My Cousin Vinny should tickle funny bones in every region and ring out a green spring for 20th Century Fox at the box office.
Even if you’re not a Southern state trooper, Vincent Gambini, Esq. (Pesci) — with his black-on-black duds and gold chain, perched in his mammoth gas guzzler — is the type of out-of-state runt you’d love to nail with a speeding ticket. In screenwriter Dale Launer’s shrewd scenario, the reason for Vinny’s Dixie drive is that his distant relation (Ralph Macchio) and college buddy (Mitchell Whitfield) have been locked up in Alabama for, well, murder.
In actuality, they mistakenly took a can of tuna from a grocer but coincidental circumstances and the vagaries of small-town justice have slammed the two college boys into the Big House.
With no money for Alan Dershowitz, they’re stuck with cousin Vinny who will represent them, pro bono, which in Brooklynese means for “no f—ing money.” Not that Vinny’s some major East Coast altruist — he’s never tried a case before and considers a murder-one trial a good learning experience.
Vinny’s major learning comes both in court, where he finds the judge (Fred Gwynne) is not only a procedural perfectionist but a sartorial stickler as well (Vinny’s black leather ware must go) and in the town, where he finds the day begins at 5:30 a.m. when the whistle blows and the hogs rise.
The nights, well, they’re filled with hoot owls, animal yelpings, trains and other noisery that propel Vinny into an extended state of agitated insomnia. The little guy gets a tad surly, snapping even at his saucy, supportive girlfriend (Marisa Tomei), whose biological clock is also ticking loudly.
Screenwriter Launer tightens the comic coil around Vinny and then, masterfully, lets him unravel. It’s a pleasing comedic progression, gyrating and spurting with crazy comedy and energy, but ultimately realized because the warring principal characters are all, despite their regional peccadillos, decent and likable people. No loathsome “Super” jerk, Vinny is a winning character and Pesci’s performance as the beleaguered litigant is terrific — cranked yet cuddly.
Director Jonathan Lynn has skillfully tapped the players’ talents here: Gwynne, as the deliberate judge, is a hoot with his agitations from the bench, while Tomei as Vinny’s solid-brass girlfriend is wonderful. As Mona Lisa Vito, Tomei is one Mona Lisa whose countenance is not open to varied interpretations — you know what’s on her mind. — Duane Byrge, originally published on March 2, 1992
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