While some post-publicity-smeared actors--like Paul Rubens (formerly Pee Wee Herman) and Rob Lowe--struggle to regain control over their generally dismissed film careers, cinema comedians like Eddie Murphy and Hugh Grant >(Four Weddings and A Funeral) take their lickings and keep on ticking by seeking refuge in milquetoast projects. Grant''s career in particular is becoming a public relations text-book example of how-to-save-face-and-keep-making-money-in-Hollywood. For those audience members unfortunate enough to spend their entertainment dollars on both Notting Hill and Mickey Blue Eyes, they will at least have the benefit of seeing first-hand how style beats content when it comes to kicking sand over a compromising situation. Grant will most certainly stick to bland scripts that serve as mile-markers for co-actors like Mickey Blue Eyes'' Jeanne Tripplehorn >(Very Bad Things) and James Caan >(The Godfather) while his own potential for creative expansion seems to be chained to fear and expressive apprehension.

Grant''s well-timed comeback after a three-year absence from movies is a double shotgun blast to insure box office receipts. After Notting Hill''s success with the highly bankable Julia Roberts as a fish hiding from water, Mickey Blue Eyes posits Grant as a fish-out-of-water. It''s a slick plot coincidence bereft of anything other than mediocrity and a laborious effort to shine a positive glow over a moderately talented actor running for his life. Patronizing, pitiable, and not a little bit deceiving, the script for Mickey Blue Eyes reads like a wheelchair ride through Central Park. Michael Felgate (Grant) is a bumbling auctioneer at an elite Manhattan auction house. After three months of dating Gina Vitale (Jeanne Tripplehorn), an Italian Mob-family schoolteacher attempting to live independent of her family''s criminal activities, Michael proposes marriage and stirs up a ruckus by endearing himself to Gina''s Mob boss dad Frank (James Caan). Michael unintentionally gets caught up in the Mob''s dirty dealings and has to struggle to save Gina and himself.

The plot is as thin as Robert De Niro''s recent jokey Mob movie, Analyze This, but with even less comedic zeal. The script for Mickey Blue Eyes has been so purposely tailored to Grant that Tripplehorn''s character seems to vanish before being reeled back in at the end of the movie. Even Caan''s mobster character comes off as somewhat emasculated in an effort to elevate Grant to the audience. Grant''s one infectious bit of comedic shtick comes from his helpless inability to speak with a necessary Italian-American accent which Frank tries to teach him on the way to an important meeting with rival mobsters. The spoof stands out as a perfectly natural element in Grant''s performance that allows him a running start at instigating laughs. But director Kelly Makin >(Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy) allows a somber tone to settle over every scene in a repetitious pull toward the central idea that Hugh Grant is a really good guy whom everybody should love.

Perhaps Grant would do better to tackle villainous characters like Rupert Everett''s menacing rapscallion in Inspector Gadget or get really mean and nasty in something like a new David Cronenberg movie. But regardless, it seems that Grant''s first steps toward winning back national and global audience acceptance are proving fruitful in spite of his movies'' lackluster entertainment value. Movies are, after all, a product to sell. And, as many celebrities have realized, the public doesn''t want to buy from people who do or say indecent little things in their not-so-private lives.

Few publicly humiliated entertainers manage a comeback from disgrace with their spirit completely intact and, in this event, Grant is no different. As Iggy Pop sang, "It''s an old, old story I suppose, a heavy price for a heavy pose."

Mickey Blue Eyes (one Star)

Rated R 102 min. Director: Kelly Makin
Starring: Hugh Grant, Jeanne Triipplehorn, James Caan
Where: State Theater, Crossroads Cinema
When: See Movie Times

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