On paper, "Mickey Blue Eyes" sounds like a drab recycling of worn-out material. An innocent outsider inadvertently becomes intimately involved with the Mafia to comedic effect -- a setup that's akin to the recent (and far superior) Analyze This and not too distant from "Married to the Mob" and the HBO series "The Sopranos." A boy from the right side of the tracks falls for a girl from the wrong side, but love eventually prevails. A reserved uppercruster -- an Englishman played by Hugh Grant -- learns to stop worrying and love the life of a regular Joe.
Trust your instincts. Aside from several funny scenes that have been unforgivably overexposed in its widely seen trailer, "Mickey Blue Eyes" is about as routine and predictable as might be imagined. Grant and his co-star, the usually able Jeanne Tripplehorn (Sliding Doors, "Basic Instinct"), offer little in the way of romantic chemistry, supporting actor James Caan seems to have become lost on his way to another, better movie, and the plot's final twist can easily be spotted a mile away.
Fresh off the success of the similarly prefab Notting Hill, Grant this time plays Michael Felgate, a successful New York auction-house manager who's head over heels for a pretty schoolteacher named Gina (Tripplehorn). Michael proposes to his beloved at a restaurant in the heart of Chinatown, delivering his message of love via a fortune cookie. It's one of several scenes that self-destruct thanks to transparent overacting.
Unfortunately, Gina hasn't been quite truthful about her dad and his "family," a group of friends and associates -- including Uncle Vito (Burt Young), Vinnie (Joe Viterelli) and Angelo (Tony Darrow) -- who can most often be found hanging out at The La Trattoria, their favorite clumsily named Italian restaurant. There, Michael finds and befriends Gina's father Frank (Caan), the kind of gregarious, buddy-buddy guy whose offer you couldn't possibly refuse. "Everything they touch ends up spoiled or corrupted," Gina later explains.
Promptly giving in to fate, Michael brushes up on mob culture by renting "Goodfellas," "Casino" and the "Godfather" trilogy, then hooks up with Vito's wannabe-painter son Johnny (John Ventimiglia) for an art/business deal that amounts to money laundering.
The usual complications (and forced hijinks) ensue, as Michael attempts to extricate himself from his unwanted partnership while keeping the connection secret from his sweetie. Eventually, there's a suspicious disaster at rival auction-house Sotheby's, a dead body, a contract placed on Michael's life, a talking toy gorilla (never a sign of a strong script), F.B.I. agents and a ludicrous showdown at a wedding.
At its best, "Mickey Blue Eyes" is a trifle, a lighthearted break from the horror excursions that have dominated the box office in recent weeks. But everything about this Grant vehicle is too easy, too obvious, too carelessly packaged. Couldn't second-time director Kelly Makin ("The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy") and his screenwriters have delivered something a little zestier, a product with even an ounce of originality? Maybe next time.