For months I’ve been wanting to induct a Steve Martin film into the vault, but he’s done so many great films (and quite a few poor ones) that it was impossible to decide where to start. Thankfully, Horror Thursday contributor Jason Soto shook me from my indecision with a movie that is apparently unknown by many. If you are one of these, let me enlighten you.
Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Antonelli (Steve Martin) is a former mobster turned FBI informant. To keep him safe before he testifies at two trials in New York, he and his wife Linda, now Tod and Terry Wilkinson, are relocated to Fryburg, a suburb of San Diego. The agent assigned to his case, Barney Coopersmith (Rick Moranis) has a tough time keeping the lovable miscreant hidden since his wise guy antics repeatedly draw the attention of the town’s DA, Hannah Stubbs (Joan Cusack).
You may be thinking Goodfellas this ain’t, but actually it is. The book Wiseguy was penned and adapted to the screen as Goodfellas by Nicholas Pileggi who is the husband of Nora Ephron, the writer of My Blue Heaven. Ephron used research from interviews with the late Henry Hill, the actual wiseguy. Obviously, Goodfellas and My Blue Heaven take two very different looks at Hill’s life.
Ephron’s mischievous tale, directed by Herbert Ross, is as ethereal as the clouds adorning its occasional dialogue cards. Instead of laying low, Vinnie’s more concerned with finding love for Barney and taking advantage of any illicit act possible. Renaissance man Steve Martin crafts a caricature of the Italian American mafioso that’s as slick and silly as Vinnie’s tailored suits and his gravity-defying hair. Vinnie a.k.a. Tod’s knack for cobbling together a completely ludicrous string of lies is made even funnier by how sincere he is. Whether he’s reciting his ten-digit Social Security number or his philosophy on life to Barney, Martin’s forthright tone never falters.
Playing off Martin’s deadpan delivery is Moranis and Cusack. Moranis’s Barney is a tough field agent, but he has that patented insecurity Moranis does so well. His awkward character evolves thanks to Vinnie’s life lessons into a smooth operator. Conversely, Cusack manages to greet Vinnie’s moronic babbling with a squarely set jaw and open-mouthed astonishment. The added punch these three bring helps to conceal the many times forgotten plot.
My Blue Heaven features a variety of notable celebrities appearing in bit roles. Hannah’s ex is portrayed by Daniel Stern and if you blink, you may miss Colleen Camp as Barney’s ex. Vinnie gets a second chance at love with Shaldeen, a role that is disappointingly brief for Carol Kane. That Guy Ed Lauter pops in as Barney’s boss and That Mafia Guy William Hickey plays Billy Sparrow, a fellow stool pigeon trapped in suburbia like Vinnie. There’s about a dozen others, but I’ll save some surprises for your viewing.
My Blue Heaven isn’t so much a well-plotted mafia comedy as it is a series of humorous sequences tenuously interconnected by the fish-out-of-water premise of a wiseguy in the burbs. It’s light on story and flaccid in its resolution, but Vinnie, the good-hearted gangster, and his pals are affable and amusing. Plot and character development? Fuggedaboudit, this one’s aimed squarely at tickling your funny bone.