(1998), Clifford L Linedecker
It may be only February, but The Whole Nine Yards is already a prime contender for Worst Movie of the Year. It’s not a film as much as a concept spawned by focus group, a sad but telling example of the contempt with which movie audiences’ tastes and intelligence are viewed these days. This is TV sitcom material at best – a meaningless title (cribbed from a throwaway line of dialog) labeling two hours of characters we don’t care about, in implausible situations, mouthing forgettable lines, all tied up with… a nice happy ending. You almost expect to hear a laugh track – and come to think of it, beer commercials every fifteen minutes would have been a welcome respite from what we’re subjected to on screen.
The plot is mentioned here only as a public service warning. Matthew Perry (Fools Rush In, TV’s Friends) plays Nick "Oz" Oseransky, a meek Montreal dentist with a high-maintenance wife (Rosanna Arquette). New neighbor "Jimmy Jones" (Bruce Willis) turns out to be notorious hit man Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski, just out of prison and hiding out from Chicago crime boss Janni Gogolak (Kevin Pollak) and his gang. At first, Oz enjoys the excitement that Jimmy brings to his life. But the plot soon thickens – or in this case, curdles. In a tangled cat’s cradle of a story that at no time achieves credibility, virtually everyone in the film ends up trying to kill someone else. Unfortunately for the audience, only a few succeed.
Director Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny, Trial and Error) employs a large and clumsy trowel to shape most scenes, using plenty of close-ups, long takes, squealing tires and pratfalls. David Franco is credited as Director of Photography, but the film looks more like it was shot by the Montreal Chamber of Commerce or someone’s uncle with a camcorder. Tedious pans of the city skyline constantly assault us, and after a character mentions that he’s going to an oyster bar for lunch, we’re naturally shown – what else – a long shot of the restaurant sign, to prove that we indeed have arrived.
Most of the performances are equally dismal. Willis is back to his old tricks, smirking through his role like he’s the only one in the cast who’s fully aware of what a stinker he’s embroiled in. He looks like he decided to collect his paycheck and have some fun along the way, but didn’t bother to let anyone else in on the joke. Perry is totally out of his league on the large screen, incapable of delivering a line without twitching or mugging. This may be appropriate and even appealing in small doses as part of an ensemble cast on television, but here he mostly looks afflicted with a painful case of St. Vitus’ Dance.
The supporting roles fare little better. As a shrewd femme fatale, Natasha Henstridge (Species) is stunning but largely inert. Two of the most annoying accents in movie history are employed, courtesy of Arquette (Quebecois) and Pollak (indecipherable). There are two bright spots in the cast – Amanda Peet (Body Shots, TV’s Jack and Jill) turns in a fetching performance, imbuing Oz’s dental assistant Cynthia with energy and a winning charm, and Michael Clarke Duncan (1999 Best Supporting Actor nominee for The Green Mile) takes his by-the-numbers role of mob thug Frankie Figs and adds shadings of humor and humanity.
But overall this is a film that aims low – and misses. The Whole Nine Yards delivers considerably less than nine good laughs. Save your money to spend on something more enjoyable – bobbing for sea urchins, perhaps. Or, wait for the video – and then ignore that.
– Bob Aulert