September 13, 2017
“My Cousin Vinny” is going back back, to Brooklyn Brooklyn
by Alex Primiani
Our current film industry is so IP-obsessed it’s easy to assume every next major movie originates from a book or comic series, maybe even a new app… but it’s rare for an author to take such inspiration from their favorite screen characters that they set out to recreate their world in print. Not so for crime novelist, lawyer, and New Yorker Lawrence Kelter, whose decades-long love for the 1992 film “My Cousin Vinny” led to the recent release of Back to Brooklyn, a fan fiction sequel to the award-winning, fish-out-of-water comedy starring Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci.
Kelter recently spoke with the New York Daily News’ Kristen Fleming about the project. The Long Island native sent a fan letter to “My Cousin Vinny” screenwriter Dale Launer in 2015. It was apparently effusive enough that it led Launer to offer Kelter his friendship… and, eventually, rights to the characters. Fleming writes:
“He said, ‘Hey, you’re pretty funny.’ So I said, ‘How about I take a crack at Vinny and Lisa and move their life forward in a book series?’”
Initially, Launer was reluctant, but Kelter convinced him.
Then came the hard work: Fourteen months spent haggling with the Writers Guild and 20th Century Fox to acquire rights to the characters.
“It was grueling,” said Kelter, who wrote with a Photoshopped image of Vinny and Lisa—leaning on their red Cadillac in front of the Brooklyn Bridge—in his sights. Not that he had to search for inspiration. “I’ve lived with their voices in my head for so long.”
Fans of the movie will find a more experienced and court-savvy Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (minus Pesci’s affable mugging) within the book’s pages, and thankfully alongside him—still waiting for that big Italian wedding—his fiancé Mona Lisa Vito (the role that won the fantastic Tomei Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars in ’92). Gambini is once again called upon to defend an alleged murderer, but this time it’s in his hometown of BK.
Back to Brooklyn isn’t the first spin-off of the film. Pesci himself released Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You in 1998. The album has it all: Christmas carols, mobster-infused melodies, old-time jazz hits… even an homage to arguably Pesci’s greatest role*: “Yo Cousin Vinny,” with editions in English, Spanish, and Italian.
Still not sure if Back to Brooklyn will live up to the iconic film? Watch the book trailer — you’ll be sorry you waited.
*Actually, there’s nothing to argue here. Joe Pesci’s greatest role is Tommy DeVito in “GoodFellas.” Evidenced here, here and here.
Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.