Dim-witted Billy and Stan confess to a murder after thinking they're owning up to accidental theft. When they seem set for the electric chair, Billy's wisecracking lawyer cousin shows up to get them off the hook.
As proven by Nothing But Trouble and Doc Hollywood, it's never a good idea to drive through rural America and irritate local lawmen. It is especially not a good idea, as a couple of students (Macchio and Whitfield) find out, to be picked up for murdering a store clerk and then confess to the crime under the impression that you're owning up to the accidental shoplifting of a can of tunafish.
However, Macchio has a cousin who is a lawyer, and no sooner has he made his one phone call than Vinny (Pesci) is turning up, with his microskirted Brooklynite girlfriend (Tomei), the kind of woman who says "axe" when she means "ask". Vinny is instantly irritating the crusty old judge (Fred Gwynne) due to hear the case by strutting into the courtroom in a black leather medallion-man outfit and demonstrating absolutely no legal finesse whatsoever. As the kids get lined up for the chair, Vinny, who has been practicing for six whole weeks, has to learn elementary courtroom procedures from a reference book.
Directed by Jonathan "Yes Minister" Lynn with flavourless competence, this has obviously been crafted as an excuse to give superstar supporting actor Pesci a rare lead role after his showings in Goodfellas and JFK, which means that he does the usual heavy-to-hero trick of mixing a little sentiment in with the obnoxious wisecracks.
The plot premise is every bit as ridiculous as you'd expect, with Vinny instantly turning overnight from moronic schlub to Perry Mason, springing surprise witnesses, puncturing testimony and finally cracking the case with a bit of expert advice from his girlfriend, who is fortuitously a walking mine of information on classic cars. Pesci is funnier than his material, and Marisa Tomei, after paying her dues with bits in Oscar and The Flamingo Kid, walks off with the whole film with her sexy whine and outrageous big city girl outfits, as if a creature from a Troma movie had landed in an episode of Barnaby Jones.
At two hours, something as thin and unexceptional as this, is just too long. The result is that all the running gags run out of steam and there are far too many fudgy bits between the comic highlights. Nevertheless, lightly likable.