I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I am one of the “mild” cult followers of this movie. I remember watching this film’s review by the famed duo Siskel & Ebert who gave it a big old thumbs down let’s take a look:
I knew when I saw their review my only option was to see the film. Generally whatever that dynamic duo gave a thumbs up too, the odds were better than 50/50 that I would go the other way. Well, My Blue Heaven is an acquired taste. For me and my band of merry men the more we watched it the more we appreciated it. We often found ourselves quoting the movie in any number of social situations. The film had a strong writer, Nora Ephron (who died in 2012 at the age of 71) the author of When Harry Met Sally and Julie & Julia and starred Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, and Joan Cusack. All three are virtually legends in the comedy genre (whether you like them or not, one must concede their standing).
So what is it about this film that made arguably the two most famous film critics give it a thumbs down? Well one said was merely an extension of Martin’s SNL wild and crazy guy routine. Another reason was that Joan Cusack “wasn’t as funny as some of her other characters.” Nonsense I say. All three of the stars each have some great lines, but only if you don’t take the film (or yourself) too seriously. Not only that, but we are treated to Fats Domino singing the theme song throughout the film.
One fact that those fools Siskel and Ebert left out is that the film was noted for its relationship to the movie Goodfellas, which was released one month after My Blue Heaven. Both movies are based upon the life of the criminal Henry Hill, although the character is renamed to “Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Antonelli” in My Blue Heaven. While Goodfellas was based upon the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, the screenplay for My Blue Heaven was written by Pileggi’s wife, Nora Ephron, and much of the research for both works was done in the same sessions with Hill.
The film’s story line is relatively simple: Vincent “Vinnie” Antonelli (Steve Martin) is a former mobster recently inducted into the Witness Protection Program with his wife, Linda. The two are under the watchful eye of Barney Coopersmith (Rick Moranis). Vinnie and Barney soon find common ground when both of their wives leave them due to their lifestyles. When he succeeds in getting Vinnie to a suburb in California and a private house, Barney has one more problem: he must make sure the jovial and sometimes rascally Vinnie adheres to proper protocol until he testifies against other more powerful mobsters
Moranis gets Martin out of one jam after another with Cusack, so to repay him, Martin fixes Moranis up with her, perhaps the only person in California more uptight than he is. Meanwhile, not unexpectedly, Martin has a profound influence on Moranis’ way of life, helping him loosen up and enjoy. There are flaws here, scenes that don’t quite click and a temporary sluggishness that sets in somewhere in the final third. But on the whole Ephron and director Herbert Ross (“Footloose”) keep things going with clever, inventive bits of business and a telltale romance between Moranis and Cusack. For those into one-liner’s this is a movie that is perfect for you as there is a line from My Blue Heaven that can be used in a plethora of situations.
The film took in $23 million at the box office but was received coolly by most critics, with the New York Times calling it “a truly funny concept and a disappointment on the screen.” However, years of repeats on cable television have, according to one critic “earned the film a mild cult following.” What probably pissed off Siskel and Ebert is the fact Warner Bros. purposely kept critics around the country from seeing it before it opened. That usually means the movie is a dog and the studio wants to avoid reviews for the all-important opening weekend.
The bottom line is that “My Blue Heaven” is a much needed farce with three of the best comic actors — Steve Martin, Joan Cusack and Rick Moranis — in good form. Watch is a couple of times before you pass judgment on this film.