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THE WHOLE NINE YARDS

by: James Berardinelli

The Whole Nine Yards suffers from split personality syndrome - it's a strange hybrid of film noir and comedy. At first, this might not seem like an unusual approach, until you recall that most movies of this ilk are satires. That's not what's going on here - there's hardly a whiff of parody from beginning to end. Instead, The Whole Nine Yards is offered up as a straight noir thriller, with all sorts of pratfalls, jokes, and slapstick thrown in to enliven the proceedings. And, while I suppose one has to grudgingly give screenwriter Mitchell Kapner and director Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) credit for trying something a little off the beaten path, they don't pull it off. The result is an uneven and at times annoying motion picture.

This is yet another movie to feature a hit man as the lead character. Judging by the number of hired killers populating films these days, it must be a growth industry. In this case, he's Jimmy "the Tulip" Tudeski (Bruce Willis), the onetime enforcer of Chicago's Gogolack crime family. Five years ago, Jimmy cut a deal with the Feds to give evidence against the Gogolacks, and now he has moved into a nice, out-of-the-way Montreal neighborhood in an attempt to escape his past. Unfortunately, his next door neighbor, Nick "Oz" Oseransky (Matthew Perry), once had a dental practice in Chicago, so he recognizes Jimmy immediately. What ensues is a rather complicated series of double- and triple-crosses involving $10 million in cash; Oz; Jimmy; Jimmy's wife, Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge); mob boss Yanni Gogolack (Kevin Pollak); Jill (Amanda Peet), a would-be hitwoman; and Jimmy's secret partner-in-crime, Frankie Figs (Michael Duncan, last seen on death row in The Green Mile).

Even though things get more complicated than I could possibly relate here, The Whole Nine Yards is never particularly difficult to follow, and, in the end, there are actually fewer twists and turns that one might anticipate from an entry into this genre. I assume that the plot was kept relatively straightforward to allow more opportunities for comedy. Indeed, the movie is loaded with jokes, few of which require a great deal of intellectual exertion to appreciate. Physical humor dwarfs any other kind - Matthew Perry is constantly falling over items and slamming into things - and there's even an opportunity for the requisite flatulence gag. Viewed out of context, some of the material would be genuinely funny, but it almost never works in the overall setting. The tug-of-war is immediately apparent: comedies of this sort demand a dumb, minimal storyline while film noir needs the opposite - intelligence and complications. Lynn never finds an effective way to marry the two.

In keeping with the story's general split personality, the actors exhibit a surprising inconsistency of tone in their performances. Matthew Perry and perky Amanda Peet play their parts like they're in a sit-com, while Natasha Henstridge digs into her role with femme fatale seriousness. At the same time, Rosanna Arquette (playing Oz's wife) and Kevin Pollak engage in a friendly competition for who can have the most inconsistent and irritating accent. Arquette's, which is supposed to be French Canadian, sounds vaguely German. Pollak, on the other hand, has trouble with a few sounds: his v's sound like w's and vice versa ("was" becomes "vas" and "very" becomes "wery"), and his j's sound like y's ("Jimmy" becomes "Yimmy"). Only Bruce Willis, who exudes his typical easy charisma, seems to fit into what this picture is intended to be.

The Whole Nine Yards features a few worthwhile scenes that keep it from being a total write-off. For example, I enjoyed the scene where Jimmy gives hit man lessons and tells anecdotes to Jill, his starry-eyed pupil. And Oz's dental wizardry offers a unique solution to a problem. Unfortunately, there are as many unpleasant moments as there are enjoyable ones (an

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