Picks and Pans Review: My Cousin Vinny

updated 03/30/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/30/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio

As comedies go, My Cousin Vinny is nothing special, but it has a nice, cartoony vitality, thanks to efficient direction by Jonathan Lynn (he also directed the dippy Nuns on the Run), a swift, uncluttered script by Dale Launer (Ruthless People) and a cast headed by Pesci (Home Alone). Pesci plays the title character, a Brooklyn lawyer who has been practicing law for only six weeks (having failed the bar exam five times in 10 years) and is now called upon to defend his first clients. His college-bound cousin, Ralph "Teen for Life" Macchio, and his roommate, Mitchell (Reversal of Fortune) Whitfield, have been wrongly accused of shooting the clerk at the local Sac-O-Suds convenience store in Wahzoo City, Ala.

Sporting a jet-black pompadour that makes him look like a Cornish hen doing an Elvis impersonation, Pesci occasionally comes close to playing cute, but he has aggressive, sharply limed fun with the trial scenes. (A high point is when, speaking high Brooklynese, he spits out the phrase "grits al dente.") As his girlfriend, Marisa Tomei—long of leg, high of hair, nasal of delivery—has a Betty Boop charm, and reliable Fred Gwynne. looming and scowling as the presiding judge, evokes images of a dimpled little Justice Souter sent through The Fly's gene transporter.

The real acting turn, however, is by Austin Pendleton, a Broadway favorite. Though his public defender character is saddled with a stutter, Pendleton is charming, anxious, preening, shy, silly, sad—in sum, lovably muddled, closer in spirit to Chekhov's Uncle Vanya than Cousin Vinny. (R)

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