August 30, 1999 12:00 PM

Hugh Grant, Jeanne Tripplehorn, James Caan

Upon meeting his fiancée’s mobster father and his associates, an addled (is there any other kind?) Hugh Grant mutters a verbal reminder into his pocket tape recorder: “Rent GoodFellas, Casino and Godfathers I, II and III.” He should have added Analyze This. Maybe he could have stolen a joke or two—or at least taken inspiration from last winter’s much funnier mob movie—to enliven this tepid romantic comedy.

Mickey Blue Eyes is based on Hollywood’s favorite can’t-fail formula: the fish out of water. Grant is the gilled one here, a British ex-pat who sells art at a tony Manhattan auction house. His trials begin when he becomes engaged to a schoolteacher (Tripplehorn) whose father (Caan) is a pinkie-ringed hoodlum. Despite Tripplehorn’s warnings and his own protests, Grant finds himself drawn into the family business. He tries to pass for a wiseguy, which leads to the film’s best scene (by way of Donnie Brasco, another mob movie he should have rented), in which Caan struggles to instruct Grant on the finer points of pronouncing that essential gangster phrase, “Fuhgeddaboutit.”

The movie is never as wacky or wild as it ought to be. Director Kelly Makin (Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy) fails to bring scenes to a comic peak, letting them instead limply peter out. Grant labors hard here, calling on his usual assortment of head shakes and twitches, but behavior that is charming on his native soil (Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill) fails to cross the Big Pond with equal appeal. It doesn’t help that he and Tripplehorn have so little romantic chemistry that when they do embrace, they evince as much passion for each other as ears of corn on adjacent stalks. Grant has far more comic chemistry with Caan, who is blustery fun. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Unless you’re feeling generous, fuhgeddaboutit

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