Directed by Jonathan Lynn. Cast: Matthew Perry, Bruce Willis, Amanda Peet, Natasha Henstridge, Michael Clarke Duncan, Rosanna Arquette, Kevin Pollak.
2000 - 99 minutes Rated R (for profanity, brief sex, nudity, and violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 19, 2000.
The characters in Jonathan Lynn's "The Whole Nine Yards," yet another in an endless recent string of mob comedies (1999's "Analyze This" and "Mickey Blue Eyes," 2000's "Gun Shy"), are rarely ever written as real people, but merely as one-dimensional caricatures. When an added layer to one of their personalities is revealed, it is not to service the character development, or to naturally offer up instinctive characterizations, but to accommodate the convoluted plot.
In a lightweight comedy, you might say, it is not required to have perfectly realized figures, just as long as they get the job done. Unfortunately, for a comedy to work, it has to at least succeed at being funny, and if there was a laugh-o-meter available, I'd guess that it briefly ascended around 2.5% of the time for me. Suffice to say, the comedy in "The Whole Nine Yards" works about as well as the broken-down lawnmower in my backyard, and when a giggle surprisingly arises every twenty to thirty minutes, it is by sheer luck.
Nicholas "Oz" Oseransky (Matthew Perry) is an amateur dentist living in the quiet suburbs of Quebec. Trapped in a hateful marriage with the conniving Sophie (Rosanna Arquette, delightfully hamming it up with a clearly artificial French-Canadian accent), one day Oz sees that someone is moving into the house next-door. Walking over to greet him, he is horrified to discover it is Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski (Bruce Willis), a former contract killer for the Mafia who has just been released from prison. Once getting to know him and becoming his friend, Oz is more comfortable with his identity, but for Sophie, it means a possible hitman to do away with Oz.
In her scheme, Sophie sends Oz to Chicago to cash in by informing his old mob boss (Kevin Pollak) about Jimmy's whereabouts, but in the process, he falls in love with Jimmy's wife, Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge), who is being held hostage. Upon return to Quebec, and with one contrivance after the next, Oz's dental assistant, Jill (Amanda Peet), is overjoyed to discover that he lives beside "The Tulip," and forces him to set up a meeting, since Jill's dream in life turns out being a contract killer herself.
Have you got all that? Because there is more. Much, much more. And this is a movie that, without credits, is little over 90 minutes and feels only like an hour. "The Whole Nine Yards" is an ultimately unsatisfying and empty-headed excursion into well-worn terrain already set by far superior pictures. How the cast, most of which are respectable actors, got caught up in such a cliched, deficient film remains a mystery, unless they thought it might aspire to match the congenial screwball zaniness of director Lynn's 1985 comedy classic, "Clue: The Movie." Going into the theater, preliminary comparisons between the two movies were unavoidable, but by the twenty-minute mark, when I had chuckled once and laughed nary a single time, it was clear this production was in serious trouble.
Since the entire running time depends on the mechanisms of the plot, and the screenplay, inauspiciously written by Mitchell Kapner, collapses with every failing "comedy" bit, the film is an inevitable dead zone in the way of substance and, frequently, entertainment value. "The Whole Nine Yards" is neither facetious nor, aside from the subplot about Jill's shocking eagerness to become a professional hitwoman, inventive, and more often than not, just lies there, the film spinning drearily around and around in the projector, but never igniting any sort of spark.
A few select actors do what they can with the material, while others make no impact at all. On the mediocre side are actually those playing the two central characters: Matthew Perry and Bruce Willis. Perry, innocuously enjoyable on TV's "Friends," plays the same exact sitcom-style character in all of his movies (from 1997's "Fools Rush In" to 1999's "Three to Tango"), and it has become a crushing bore. Meanwhile, Willis makes next to no impression, and because of the limited guise of his Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski, oftentimes disappears into the background.
Their three female counterparts fare noticeably better. Best of all is Natasha Henstridge, far more radiant than in the exploitative "Species" movies, who adds unanticipated depth and emotion to Cynthia. Henstridge has the talent, for sure, to break out of these countless throwaway roles, but first she must fire her agent. Amanda Peet has a lot of fun as the quirkily straightforward and giddy Jill, and seems to know more about the art of comedic payoff than even Perry who, thus far, has strived on a career based solely on comedy. It is too bad, then, that Peet is unnecessarily asked to disrobe in a climactic scene, with the obvious sole purpose being to show off her breasts. Finally, Rosanna Arquette is awful as Sophie, but something tells me that was her purpose, and her clear overacting only aids in brightening up her limited screen time. Also popping up is Michael Clarke Duncan, fresh off an Oscar nomination for his role in "The Green Mile," as Jimmy's largely built friend and fellow killer, Frankie Figs.
When "The Whole Nine Yards" eventually sputters to its underwhelming conclusion, one is left pondering how such a film ever got greenlit. A great deal of movies of this type have been made in the past, and this one is nothing but a duplication of better films, so what was the point? Without a passable screenplay or any notable technical accomplishments, "The Whole Nine Yards" rests solely on the presumed charm of the cast, and half of the actors are not charming at all. Now, what does that tell you?