Larry Kelter’s Back to Brooklyn is the sequel to My Cousin Vinny, coming 25 years after the release of the classic legal comedy that brought us the unforgettable Mona Lisa Vito and Vincent Gambini. Reading Back to Brooklyn is like stepping into a comfortable, old pair of shoes (in the best possible way). It picks up right where My Cousin Vinny leaves off, with Vinny and Lisa preparing to leave Alabama, after Vinny’s unlikely victory defending his cousin in a murder trial in the fictitious Beechum County.
Upon his victorious return to New York, Vinny finds himself in a position that would make him the envy of any new attorney. Before his shingle is even good and hung, he is covered up in cases. A pimp with a neck injury. A psychologically afflicted bad-check passer. And another seemingly innocent accused murderer. If this type of caseload were every lawyer’s reality, I might actually suggest to be people who inquire that, yes, they should attend law school, rather than the discouraging response they get from me now: “Not unless you like mortgage-sized debt and poor job prospects.”
Although Larry Kelter didn’t author the original screenplay My Cousin Vinny, he captures the essence of what endeared us to Vinny and Lisa, in the first place. They are still that couple who are either ready to cut one another’s throats or fawning over each other with puppy love, sometimes within the same conversation. It’s terribly obnoxious and somewhat endearing, and we’ve all known couples who fit the profile. Kelter didn’t hesitate in answering whether he had any difficulty in keeping Vinny and Lisa true to their original forms:
I found that I had been subconsciously preparing for this job for decades, ever since I first saw the film. I just didn’t know it at the time. I was grooming myself for the job every time I parroted lines from the film, at parties and in daily conversation. When I sat down at the keyboard I found myself in Vinny’s mind, speaking in Joe Pesci’s voice. And from there the rest was less daunting. Sure, I had to come up with a plot and a reveal worthy of the film, without the use of magic grits or Positraction. I hope readers will feel my story measures up.
I’m originally from Brooklyn, so I guess you could say that growing up I was a motorhead. Of course I wasn’t at Lisa’s level but I did my own oil changes, and tune-ups (in the days before electronics came into play). I replaced a few carburetors and did some brake jobs. Cars were always in my blood and still are to this day. I drive a Mustang GT and can’t get enough of the growling exhaust or the power generated by the double overhead cam V8. On the flip side, I worked in the fashion industry for several years. I was a general manager for Izod LaCoste, the brand with the famous alligator emblem. So, yeah, I know a thing or two about fashion. I also went to school in Bensonhurst Brooklyn. Most every girl at FDR High School was a facsimile of Mona Lisa Vito with dark hair and big brown eyes walking down the corridors in skintight Levi’s and platform shoes. I had an affinity for Mona Lisa Vito even before she debuted on the big screen. And that’s the God’s honest truth.
I’ve always identified with the film. No, I’m not an attorney but I am originally from Brooklyn and I grew up around that kind of My-Cousin-Vinny humor, that Brooklyn wise guy humor. “Yeah, you blend.” Like most novelists, I have a hankering to get involved in the movie business at some level, to write a script, and be part of that world. Over and over I kept asking myself, “What kind of screenplay do I have a talent for?” The answer was always the same, “Comedy,” and my favorite, of course, was My Cousin Vinny.
I mean, after all, Vinny and Lisa are still making us smile twenty-five years later. Dale Launer did such a remarkable job sculpting Vinny and Lisa. And the performances of Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei…the bar was set pretty damn high.
But before moving on to my recommendation, here are my couple of minor issues with the book. The book has its humorous moments, but I found there were too many easy jokes (like I said, minor issues). Many of the supporting characters feel like stereotyped caricatures, but I’m not from Brooklyn, so maybe there are guys on every street corner that are representative of Kelter’s characters. Finally, Kelter plays it pretty fast and loose with rules of evidence and courtroom procedure, but most non-lawyer readers aren’t going to know any differently and it doesn’t otherwise detract from the story.
I read Back to Brooklyn while on several days of vacation, and it was just the sort of thing I needed to help me unwind. It’s a comedic legal thriller with a good time had by all (except for the guy that gets killed – he kind of had a rough go of it). Larry Kelter captures all the charm and endearing flaws of Vinny and Lisa, and I enjoyed the chance to engage them in another adventure. If you’re looking for a fun read with familiar characters, Back to Brooklyn may fit the bill.
Rating (out of 4 gavels):
Back to Brooklyn released on May 22, 2017, and you can order it from Amazon for $8.99.