Shtick Figures


Let’s give Hugh Grant some credit where credit is due: he’s not waving his shtick around quite so much anymore. In his dumb, affable new comedy Mickey Blue Eyes, there’s nary a swipe through the hair, the stammering quotient dips as low as his blood pressure in Notting Hill, and the only notable quirk left intact is the compulsive blinking that must leave him thinking his world is lit with a strobe. Grant plays an art auctioneer who proposes wedlock to Jeanne Tripplehorn, but finds himself married to the mob: Tripplehorn’s father (James Caan) is a Mafia operative, and Grant is soon inadvertently laundering money through the auction house and getting involved in the accidental murder of a don’s son. The last half-hour bogs down badly, with a cynical fake-out ending and a final scene that borders on nonsensical, but until then Mickey Blue Eyes plays a friendly, forgettable song, squarely thumping keys of broad physical comedy. Caan, sly and droll, underplays every half-baked line; he and a crackerjack team of bit players— notably James Fox as Grant’s bemused, indulgent boss and Scott Thompson as an uptight, glassy-eyed FBI man— hover weightlessly above the material, while a partly reformed Grant knots his brow trying to keep his masochism in check.

For true masochists, there’s the Airplane!-style comedy of mannerisms Stiff Upper Lips, which parodies the Merchant-Ivory adaptations of E. M. Forster books, gathering the story lines of Howards End, A Room With a View, and A Passage to India into one upper-crust English family’s slapsticky trip around the world circa 1908. Trouble is, a satire can’t work if your subject understands the joke better than you do— the movie has a hearty laugh about the novelist’s precious characters and homoerotic subtexts, but Forster himself had a better one.