My Cousin Vinny (1992 with Joe Pesci and Ralph Macchio)

USA / 1992

Writer: Dale Launer / Director: Jonathan Lynn

Cast: Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei, Mitchell Whitfield, Fred Gwynne

College pals Bill and Stan (RALPH MACCHIO and MITCHELL WHITFIELD) drive into Alabama on a detour to New York. At a local convenience store they inadvertently leave without paying for all their groceries. Realising their mistake, they readily admit their guilt to a local cop who pulls them up minutes later. When they find out the police actually think they are confessing to the murder of the shop’s clerk – killed in the intervening minutes – Bill panics and calls the family’s only lawyer – his Uncle Vinny (JOE PESCI).

When he arrives with girfriend Mona (MARISA TOMEI) on his arm, it transpires that this will be Vinny’s first court case after a belated graduation. Judge Haller (FRED GWYNNE) is disgusted at the defence counsel’s attitude, jailing him for contempt. Unable to sleep and overwhelmed with work, Vinny puts up an increasingly shambolic performance in court, to the amusement of his urbane rival James Trotter III (LANE SMITH). As the boys’ prepare to sample life on Death Row, it appears that only a miracle will save them…

British film-maker and Yes, Minister director Jonathan Lynn managed to get tough guy Pesci, so terrifying in Once Upon A Time In America, Goodfellas and Casino, to play the rubber-faced shtick with gusto, presumably to establish his comedy credentials. He manages to carry the comedy with surprising ease, getting all the best laugh-lines but Tomei won an Oscar for playing his not-so-dumb-broad with authority, showing that when she’s stretched, she can deliver the goods.