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The Whole Nine Yards


Friday February 18, 2000

     His motto is "I'm very careful, I'm a dentist." So it's to be expected that the seven years since he moved from Chicago to Montreal haven't been terribly exciting for "The Whole Nine Yards' " Nicholas "Oz" Oseransky (Matthew Perry), a square-jawed underachiever so ineffectual he feels helpless when restaurants put mayonnaise all over his hamburger.
     Oz's new neighbor, Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski (Bruce Willis) also hates that local culinary custom. But hearing him say, "When they slap that mayonnaise on, I could kill somebody," sounds an entirely different note.
     For Jimmy the Tulip, named after the flowers he sends to the funerals of his victims, is a professional hit man who's eliminated 17 people without doing noticeable damage to his self-esteem. "It's not important how many people I've killed," he says with the kind of deadpan charm that can be one of Willis' specialties. "What's important is how I get along with the people who are still alive."
     While comedies about hit men are nothing new ("Grosse Pointe Blank" is probably the best of the lot), "The Whole Nine Yards" manages to be occasionally amusing. Written by Mitchell Kapner and directed by Jonathan Lynn ("My Cousin Vinnie"), it's a peppy affair that works in fits and starts but is unable to put its successful moments together in any consistently satisfying way.
     Until Jimmy moves in next-door, Oz's life is mainly taken up with dodging flak from his ruthless and hateful French Canadian wife Sophie (Rosanna Arquette, complete with accent). This woman is so evil that even Oz's new receptionist Jill (Amanda Peet in the film's liveliest and most appealing performance) can't help but blurt out, "Leave the bitch."
     Before Oz can act on that sensible advice, he meets Jimmy, also a refugee from Chicago, having ratted out the leader of the dread Gogolak crime syndicate. And once Sophie finds out there's a price on Jimmy's head, she insists that her husband go to Chicago and negotiate for a piece of the action.
     Ever the dutiful spouse, Oz heads for Chicago and meets, not surprisingly, some avaricious and amoral comic mobsters like the enormous Franklin "Frankie Figs" Figueroa ("The Green Mile's" Michael Clarke Duncan) and his boss, the accent-impaired Janni Gogolak (Kevin Pollak). Oz also meets the beautiful Cynthia ("Species' " Natasha Henstridge), the mysteriously estranged wife of, yes, his dangerous next-door neighbor.
     Oz may be a classic dupe, always a step behind everyone else in the picture, but even he eventually learns that there's more to the Gogolak-Tulip feud than criminal rivalry, $10 million more. Kapner's script is a little twist-happy, with complications piling on complications, but it soon becomes clear, even to Oz, that he may be the only person in the film who doesn't want somebody else dead.
     Director Lynn, with the "Yes, Minister" series in England and several studio comedies in this country behind him, has a great deal of relevant comic experience. Willis, who's played parts like this many times, still manages some vintage hit-man panache, and Perry, one of the "Friends" ensemble, is a good sport about all the pratfalls his character endures.
     Despite these promising aspects, and even adding in Peet's engaging performance, "The Whole Nine Yards" ends up on the undernourished side. The film's deficiencies are not his fault, but if the likable Perry had a bigger, more dynamic presence, it might help. There are certainly some laughs here, but they could use the assistance.

The Whole Nine Yards, 2000. R, for some sexuality / nudity and violence. Morgan Creek Productions Inc. and Franchise Pictures LLC present a Rational Packaging films production, in association with Lansdown Films, released by Warner Bros. Director Jonathan Lynn. Producers David Willis, Allan Kaufman. Executive producers Elie Samaha, Andrews Stevens. Screenplay Mitchell Kapner. Cinematographer David Franco. Editor Tom Lewis. Costumes Edi Giguere. Music Randy Edelman. Production design David L. Snyder. Art director Andre Chamberland. Set decorator Mary Lynn Deachman. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Bruce Willis as Jimmy Tudeski. Matthew Perry as Oz Oseransky. Rosanna Arquette as Sophie. Michael Clarke Duncan as Frankie Figgs. Natasha Henstridge as Cynthia. Amanda Peet as Jill.

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