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Movie Reviews : Thank ‘My Blue Heaven’ for Bill Irwin

TIMES FILM CRITIC

There’s an unexpected moment in the lamentable “My Blue Heaven,” (citywide) as mobster-in-hiding Vinnie Antonelli (Steve Martin) takes his Witness Protection Program chaperon (Rick Moranis) to a New York nightclub, picks up a pair of salty numbers (Melissa Hurley and Leslie Cook) and engages in a wild merengue, into which he lures the wide-eyed Moranis.

The number is hot, blithe and niftily edited, so that FBI-man Moranis, whose greatest desire up until this moment was to own something as dashing as a windbreaker, comes out of his constricted shell and blossoms just slowly enough, while Martin and Les Girls burn down the joint.

Nice stuff. And a few scenes later, the screen comes to life again; at a law-enforcement officer’s dance in the idyllic California beachfront town where Vinnie has been relocated. Moranis, on a first date with Joan Cusack, an equally repressed assistant D.A., suavely tips the band to play a merengue and takes a stunned Cusack out on the floor, where it becomes her turn to loosen up.

This dance, too, is charming stuff in the pinky-mauve twilight, but it’s overshadowed by Moranis’ white starched-shirt buddy in the Bureau (Bill Irwin), who gets merengue-mad watching from the sidelines. First one foot snakes out, then a leg, then a ripple shudders through him; then his whole body seems electrified by the rhythms. His legs are India-rubber; his arms wrap around his own body in an erotic paroxysm. Then, as his superiors turn an aghast eye, the moment is over as astonishingly as it began.

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You might remember the magical Irwin throughout “Popeye,” trying unsuccessfully to pick up his hat from the ground. New Yorkers know him from his Tony-nominated “Largely New York.”

But four minutes, tops, is not quite enough to be grateful for in this unfocused, unrealized comedy. Martin as a superstud is an idea even he can’t seem to take seriously, so the women who litter his life seem demented. The idea of a community of relocated gangsters, desperate for a little decent marinara sauce, but consigned to the land of popovers and sunflower seed salads is a funny one, but screenwriter Nora Ephron doesn’t flesh it out properly. And when director Herbert Ross is away from his dance numbers, he lets the pace sag frightfully.

A lot of good talent on both sides of the camera goes down with this PG-13-rated ship, all of the above plus Melanie Mayron, Carol Kane, William Hickey, cinematographer John Bailey and production designer Charles Rosen. Peculiarly enough, considering his facility for accents far more wild and crazy, Martin never seems to get his mouth around his wiseguy accent. He’s still a dancin’ fool, but the stuff around the dancing moments outweighs them, about 40 to 1. Ah well, there is Bill Irwin.


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