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Mickey Blue Eyes

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The commercials for “Mickey Blue Eyes” have already shown one of the most basic — and funniest — jokes of the film, the one where Italian mobster James Caan is trying to teach ultra-British Hugh Grant how to talk like a Mafioso.

“Fuhgeddaboudit,” Caan says.

“Fuhgettaboutit,” Grant replies, emphasizing the “t’s” too much.

For some reason, an Englishman trying to do a Brooklyn/Italian accent is riotously funny, despite being the simplest shtick you could think of.

As is the rest of “Mickey Blue Eyes,” an often hysterical film with sparkling dialogue and great characters.

Grant plays Michael, an art-house auctioneer whose girlfriend, Gina (Jeanne Tripplehorn), refuses to marry him on the grounds that her family is involved with the Mafia and she doesn’t want the man she loves getting tangled up in it, too.

Gina becomes a minor character, though, as Michael gets more and more involved with her father, Frank Vitale (James Caan). Frank wants just a small favor — auction off a crass piece of art as part of a money-laundering scheme — but that leads to more favors, more lies, and more covering up.

Then, alas, a cousin accidentally gets shot, and his father, Uncle Vito (Burt Young — Paulie from “Rocky”), wants revenge, as is the tendency of Mafia guys.

What we have here, basically, is a fish-out-of-water story. Michael isn’t exactly snooty, but he’s certainly not familiar with the ways (and terminology) of the Mob. Grant has always been funniest when he’s bumbling through a foreign situation, and this movie is full of them.

The final set piece, at his and Gina’s wedding, is wonderful, as is a previous scene at a restaurant where one thing after another goes wrong.

It sounds canned and familiar — we’ve seen plenty of movies before in which “one things after another goes wrong.” The genius here is that it’s all done in a way that seems fresh. For example, at one point Michael must wear a squib — a device used in movie-making to make it look like a character has been shot — and he’s supposed to explode it at just the right moment in order to, well, make it look like he’s been shot. We’re told clearly that it will go off with just a squeeze or pat, and so we know instantly that it will at some point be accidentally fired. We can see it coming. But when it happens, it’s in a way we didn’t expect, and the results are hilarious.

That’s the wonderful thing about this movie: It all seems new. Mafia comedies, buddy pictures (Caan and Grant make a great duo), stranger-in-a-strange-world movies — they’ve all been done before. But “Mickey Blue Eyes” is somehow still one of a kind.

Great performances abound, but particularly from the inimitable Caan, whose mobster/loving father is a scream. The rest of the cast is full of wonderfully odd (yet real) characters, from meat-faced gangsters to snobby art conoisseurs.

It’s a winning film, one that is funny from beginning to end and that really, truly, gloriously entertains.

A- (; PG-13, brief strong language, some violence and sensuality..)

In 2009, I reconsidered this movie for a column at Film.com

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