Rated R - Running Time: 1:41 - Released 2/18/00

The gimmick of The Whole Nine Yards (naive geek gets involved with the mob) is one we've seen repeatedly in the past few years. Mickey Blue Eyes was cheaper and less engaging than Analyze This; The Whole Nine Yards follows closely in Mickey's footsteps. Since his enlistment as Chandler on Friends, Matthew Perry seems unable to play anything else. His Jerry Lewis-style, slapstick patter is excruciating, only slightly less so than Bruce Willis's cool-headed tough guy.

Perry is a Montreal dentist named "Oz" living with his irritating wife Sophie (Rosanna Arquette, poorly faking a French accent) and hateful mother-in-law. His only friend is his assistant, Jill (Amanda Peet), who counsels him to "dump the bitch" and "get laid." Just when he thinks his life can't get any worse, a famous Chicago hit man named Jimmy Tudeski (Willis), just out of prison after serving time for 17 murders, moves in next door. Because Jimmy has a huge price on his head, Sophie blackmails Oz to go to Chicago and rat him out to his enemies. He is escorted to the home of crime boss Janni Gogolack (Kevin Pollak, with an even worse slavic accent) by Frankie Figs (Michael Clarke Duncan), another hit man, where he meets Jimmy's estranged wife Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge), who is being held hostage, and learns that Jimmy owes Janni $10 million. Janni wants to kill Jimmy to get his money back, Jimmy wants to kill Janni and keep the money, and both want to kill Cynthia to get her out of the way. Soon there is a showdown planned between the two mobsters, and Oz and Cynthia are in the middle. Trouble is, in the meantime, Oz has fallen in love with Cynthia, and will do anything to protect her.

Sound dumb? It is. I can appreciate a mob farce just as much as the next guy, but it has to have characters and dialogue that are either convincing or wacked-out enough to be funny. It has to have a director who can decide what the tone is supposed to be and make all the members of the cast understand this decision, and it needs actors who can consistently deliver the concept. The Whole Nine Yards has none of these. The script by Mitchell Kapner (his freshman effort) is occasionally clever, but riddled with idiotic setups to allow Perry to do a spit take or a vomit sound. Some of the characters are believable as human beings; others are ridiculous caricatures.

Director Jonathan Lynn doesn't help his actors with this problem; he seems undecided as to whether this is supposed to be a thriller, a straight farce, or a romatic comedy. So he simply relies on Perry's pratfalls and some naked female flesh to make us overlook the inconsistencies. The romantic scenes are incredibly weak; Perry and Henstridge have zero chemistry. Peet is remarkably engaging (even though her character does a complete about-face halfway through the film), but Willis is obviously just awaiting his paycheck. Kevin Pollak, who has done well in films like Grumpy Old Men and the HBO miniseries From The Earth To The Moon, is howlingly bad as Janni. His accent is supposed to be overblown, but he downplays it so it just comes off as bad. One can't blame him, though; if he read the script he must have been baffled as to what his character was supposed to be.

And then there's Michael Clarke Duncan, currently up for an Oscar for his powerful work in The Green Mile. It is unfortunate that this film is playing in theatres right now; it appears after his moment in the limelight that he's back to his regular gig as glorified thug. **

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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