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Pesci plays Vinny Gambini, a New York attorney newbie who has to go to Alabama to defend his Wrongly Accused cousin and friend in a murder trial. Hilarity and profanity ensue. Tomei plays his argumentative fiancée with a highly-exaggerated New York accent that got her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
Despite the Fish Out of Water premise, Southerners are not portrayed as hicks; a fair percentage of the Southerners are actually decent, commonsensical folks.
Also notable for being extremely accurate on the legal side. To the point it's watched and dissected in law school because it shows how some things are done both correctly and incorrectly.
This film includes examples of:
- Ambulance Chaser: Vinny notices a man with a neck brace and occasionally breaks from his conversation to see if he can make a slip-and-fall case out of his injury. He loses interest when he realizes that there's no case.
- Amoral Attorney: Averted. The prosecutor is a good man who decided to not go with being a defense lawyer because he couldn't stand the thought of defending a guilty man. He gets a Pet The Dog moment when he realizes that the protagonists aren't guilty and drops the case.
- Vinny himself also averts this; he's a defense attorney, is definitely unorthodox and idiosyncratic in his approach, but is otherwise a decent guy.
- Badass: Vinny - not even a "kick ass" menace can frighten him.
- Bad Guys Play Pool: The reason Vinny's supposed to fight the idiot redneck is because he stiffed Lisa when she won $200 at pool.
- Blatant Lies: Vinny's explanation as to why there are no records of "Vinny Gambini" ever trying a case in New York State.
- Blind Without'Em: The public defender attempts to use this to discredit one of the witnesses, but fails when it turns out the glasses were just for reading. Inverted with the elderly woman who was another witness, as she was wearing her glasses while witnessing the event; however, it was proven that her eyesight was so bad she was blind even with 'em.
- Brooklyn Rage: Vinny beats up a guy who taunted him at just the wrong moment.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: Vinny, especially when he shows up dressed in a magician's suit (although not by choice -- that was the only suit available).
- Chekhov's Gun: This film is loaded with them, to the point that every tiny detail might be one, so you have to pay attention!
- Hearing about how long grits have to boil.
- Vinny's relationship with Judge Malloy in Brooklyn.
- Vinny mentioning that Lisa knows everything about cars.
- Vinny's interview montage of the prosecution's witnesses shows each time he zeros in on the pertinent detail.
- Vinny and Lisa's overly elaborate argument as to whether Lisa failed to turn off a faucet completely or if it was just broken.
- Lisa's constant picture-snapping.
- City Mouse: Vinny and Lisa at first seem to be clueless city slickers, but their New York toughness and wiles eventually save the day.
- Clear My Name
- Cluster F-Bomb: It's a Pesci movie. What did you expect? Lisa also lets out a fair number of four-letter words, to the point that Vinny complains, "What is it with you and that mouth?"
- Conveniently Cellmates: Stan and Bill share a jail cell throughout the film.
- Corrupt Hick: All of the New Yorkers assume that they'll be treated unfairly because they're not Good Ol Boys, but their arrest was a genuine misunderstanding, not malice. Ultimately they're treated fairly by the legal system.
- Courtroom Antic: The bulk of the movie centers around a murder trial. Notable that the Antics that would get a lawyer in trouble do get a lawyer in trouble.
- Dress Code: Vinny gets in trouble for not wearing a suit for the first couple sessions.
- Epic Fail: Vinny is considered in Contempt of Court because he failed to correctly give a plea.
- Fish Out of Water: New Yorker in the South. He freaks out at the sound of nature, but is fine with a prison riot.
- Friendly Enemy: The prosecutor, to the point of taking Vinny hunting and leaving a standing invitation for him after Vinny leaves for New York.
- Geeky Turn On: An argument between Vinny and Mona about obscure wrench knowledge quickly turns into foreplay.
- George Jetson Job Security: Vinny is taking the case pro bono, but that still doesn't keep him from being fired after screwing up a number of times with the judge.
- Good Ol' Boy: Discussed by Vinny: "Hey Stan, you're in Ala-fucking-bama. You come from New York. You killed a good ol' boy. There is no way this is not going to trial!"
- Hero Antagonist:
- The prosecuting attorney is actually a really nice, honest servant of the people. He's very friendly with Vinny and even offers his cabin for Vinny and Lisa to stay in.
- The Judge butts heads with Vinny on a number of occasions, but he's just trying to get him to follow standard court precedures. He's completely and professionally impartial otherwise.
- How Many Fingers?: Vinny uses this on a witness to test her eyesight. He has to chastise the judge for noting the answer before the witness has a chance to say anything.
- I Have Brothers: Lisa's a bit of a tomboy and uses this as one of her excuses. She also worked in her father's auto shop.
- Impossibly Tacky Clothes: The maroon three-piece suit Vinny has to wear to the first day of trial, due to the tailor's shop being closed.
- Large Ham: The prosecutor.
- Mistaken Confession: There's a fine line between "I shot the clerk?" and "I shot the clerk!". Cultural intonations played for laughs.
- My Biological Clock Is Ticking: This exact line is part of one of Tomei's monologues, accentuated by her stamping out the beat to illustrate.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Happens to the defendants twice. First, they think they're confessing to shoplifting, when they're being asked about a murder, which leads to the Mistaken Confession. Second, Vinny tells Stan about their case, but Stan thinks Vinny is going to Prison Rape him free of charge.
- One-Scene Wonder: Austin Pendleton as the stammering court-appointed attorney. "Oh, he's a tough one."
- Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Vinny is fairly short, but manages to beat up a stingy redneck twice his size
- Poor Communication Kills: When Vinny's cousin and his friend are first arrested, they end up digging themselves deeper as they answer the police's questions while simply assuming they were being arrested for shoplifting, and the police never even mention to the two why they were arrested until well into the process.
- Prison Rape: A brief conversation about this led to a little awkwardness when Vinny first showed up.
- Rule of Funny: No, Screech Owls do not sound like that, though they can be pretty loud.
- Running Gag:
- Vinny getting thrown in jail for contempt.
- Vinny and Lisa's repeated inability to get a good night's sleep. Vinny finally feels at home while sleeping in jail during a riot.
- The guy who keeps showing up challenging Vinny to a fight for the owed money.
- Sherlock Scan: How Lisa (and presumably Vinny) realized and explained that the car driven by the real killers wasn't even of the same make as the car driven by the protagonists, simply by examining a picture of the tire marks it left.
Vinny: I find it hard to believe that this kind of information could be ascertained simply by looking at a picture!
Lisa: Would you like me to explain it?
Vinny: I would LOVE to hear this!
Judge: So would I.
- Shown Their Work: The film's depiction of the legal process is very accurate. The director has a law degree and insisted the courtroom scenes be how real cases are presented. The movie is ranked #3 by the American Bar Association's ranking of 25 greatest legal movies. Hell, they've even got a court reporter! Sitting right behind the prosecutor during several scenes is a woman scribbling on a flip-up notepad and looking very excited.
- Simple Country Lawyer: An inversion. In this film, the Southern lawyers are better educated and far more erudite than Vinny, who is from New York City.
- Slap Slap Kiss: Vinny and Lisa.
- Smart People Play Chess: Judge Haller.
- Smoking Gun: Lisa's photos of the tire tracks.
- Surprise Witness: Lisa
- Sweet Home Alabama: While a few rednecks pop up -- basically the two guys who shouldn't play pool with a girl from Brooklyn -- most of the Southerners are portrayed as honest and likable folks.
- This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: Brought up at the end of the movie, where Vinny briefly sulks about being unable to solve his first case himself. Lisa brings him out of it in fairly short order, though.
- Throw It In:
- The director, an Englishman, was casually chatting with Joe Pesci and got confused by his Brooklyn-accented pronounciation of "youth." After Pesci explained it, they both realized they were having a conversation that should be in the film. The famous "two yoots" conversation between Vinny and Judge Haller which resulted is practically verbatim what Pesci and the director said to each other.
- According to the director's commentary, the screech owl that woke Vinny just happened to come across the film crew one night. It stayed because they fed it some meat.
- Title Drop:
There's a lawyer in the family.
My cousin Vinny!
- Tsundere: Mona Lisa Vito.
- Turn the Other Fist: On the third encounter with the Big Pool Player who owes Lisa $200, Vinny is distracted and in a hurry, and waves the guy off as he, the Alabaman, taunts the New Yorker with the $200. Waves him off, waves him away, tackle. Vinny gets back up $200 richer hardly breaking his stride.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Joe Pesci isn't exactly a looker, but he's with someone as good looking as Marisa Tomei.
- Well, This Is Not That Trope: The movie's tagline, as seen on the poster above. "There have been many courtroom dramas that have glorified The Great American Legal System. This is not one of them."