Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant's production company, Simian Films, has been in search of a good project ever since 1996's average Extreme Measures tanked at the box office. This gangster-themed comedy arrives in time to capitalise on Grant's Notting Hill resurrection and makes full use of Top Fop's trademark mannered comedy.
Grant spent two years working on the script with writers Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn - and it shows. Each joke is tailored to place him centre-stage. The choice of Kelly Makin (whose previous big screen outing was comedy cult favourite Canadian Bacon) as director also favours Grant, who always fares better in comic roles.
Mickey Blue Eyes is a lot more even than Grant's first attempt to cross over into the American mainstream - the disastrous Nine Months. And while it's certainly not a rolling-in-the-aisles classic, it's not that bad either. James Caan and Burt Young make great mobster straight men, while Jeanne Tripplehorn (still hot after her bitchy other woman turn in Sliding Doors) is convincing as Grant's fiancée caught between the respectable auction houses and the criminal underworld.
But there's no getting away from the fact that this is Grant's show. He's perfectly cast as the English auctioneer trying to hold together both a New York sale house and his relationship. As his life spirals out of control, the slapstick humour increases, with some classic verbal gags and one or two achingly funny moments. The only problem is that in between, the pacing lags.
You could lodge complaints about realism. Despite claims that the cast hung out with real-life Mafiosi, there are only flashes of that in the performances - - unlike, for instance GoodFellas or Casino, where the characters entirely convinced.
But realism isn't always necessary for comedy, so long as the laughs fly thick and fast enough. Sadly for Mickey Blue Eyes, there's far too much time to catch your breath between the really knockout gags. Tripplehorn shows potential but is underused, leaving her little time to build up chemistry with Grant and distract the audience with the romance. James Fox makes a rare comedy appearance as Grant's boss, a man for whom every mishap is an adventure. For a while there's a sense that his character could be something more, possibly another mobster, but it transpires that he too is underdeveloped. And the rest of the cast of gangsters and associates are also thinly sketched, with possibilities for character development - and any jokes that don't utilise Grant - left untapped.
Which returns us to the stark fact that this is Grant's show. How much? Well, at one point Tripplehorn presents him with the gift of a toy monkey, just because he looks like one. It's an observation Hurley herself made about Grant years ago, hence the name of their production company. Now you know. Now you can laugh.
Hugh Grant's terribly English persona makes for great fish-out-of-water laughs in this Mafia comedy. A handful of guffaws make it worth checking out, but despite good performances,it drags between the high points.