By Owen Gleiberman
Updated August 13, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • Movie

Hugh Grant is the first movie star to spend every moment he’s on screen apologizing for being a movie star. Self-deprecation isn’t simply his style; it’s part of his internal software — if he ever stopped acting like a wincingly sweet goody-two-shoes, he might shut down completely.

In Mickey Blue Eyes, Grant plays Michael Felgate, a Manhattan fine-art auctioneer who proposes to his sweetheart (Jeanne Tripplehorn) then discovers that she’s the daughter of a Mafia chieftain (James Caan). Suddenly, he’s surrounded by oafish mobsters who all want favors from him. (In one of the few funny scenes, he has to auction off a junior wiseguy’s painting of Jesus wreaking vengeance with a machine gun.)

The supporting cast includes Burt Young (who looks like he’s been on a diet of oat-bran cannoli), hamburger-faced Joe Viterelli, and a bunch of other actors who have skulked, whacked, and bada-binged their way through these clich&#eacute; goombah roles so often, they look about ready to open a theme restaurant (the Hard Case Café?).

It’s only when Michael has to impersonate a mobster himself that the movie lurches briefly to life. Pretending to throw a tantrum in a crowded restaurant, Grant wraps his velvet diction and euphonious vowels around phrases like “Get ouddaheah,” and it’s an altogether remarkable sound, like hearing a Saville Row tailor trying to bark in Swedish.

Acting like a tough guy — and failing at it miserably — is exactly the sort of thing Hugh Grant should be doing. It provides him with a hilarious way to deep-six his darling-masochist personality. But then, having introduced an idea that’s at least as funny as the depressed-hitman concept of ”Analyze This,” the movie mysteriously abandons it.

”Mickey Blue Eyes” never lets Grant develop his pidgin-Italian nice-guy-gone-sociopath routine. Instead, it chokes him off, and we’re left with the same damned floppy-haired English gent drowning in tact.

Mickey Blue Eyes

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Kelly Makin