The Whole Nine Yards

on February 18, 2000 by Wade Major
   Matthew Perry adds yet another skittish schmuck to his personal pantheon in "The Whole Nine Yards," a serviceable but ultimately forgettable crime comedy that should neither hurt nor hinder the careers of those involved as it passes invisibly through a theatrical run and onto the video shelf.
   Perry plays Nick "Oz" Oseransky, an American dentist living and working in Montreal, desperately looking for a way to disentangle himself from his shrewish French-Canadian wife Sophie (Rosanna Arquette). An unlikely solution seems to manifest itself when notorious hitman-turned-informant Jimmy "the Tulip" Tudeski (Bruce Willis) moves in next door, prompting Sophie to promise Nick a divorce if he flies to Chicago and collects the reward money for revealing Jimmy's location to his arch-enemy, mobster Yanni Gogolack (Kevin Pollack). Sophie, meanwhile, spills the plot to Jimmy, hoping that Jimmy will then kill Nick and secure her a fat insurance settlement.
   From the setup, things are in place for a relatively standard farce which is, more or less, what ensues. Various complications and twists arise as needed--Nick meets and falls in love with Jimmy's estranged wife Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge), Yanni's key henchman Frankie Figs ("The Green Mile's" Michael Clarke Duncan) turns out to be an inside "plant" from Jimmy, and Nick's dental assistant Jill (Amanda Peet of TV's "Jack and Jill") confesses to being an aspiring assassin and a longtime fan of Jimmy's. It's all rather pat and predictable, though not entirely objectionable.
   What helps salvage the film from itself, to a large degree, are the instincts of director Jonathan Lynn ("My Cousin Vinny") who, with the help of a talented cast, manages to squeeze far more out of the material than should really be possible.
   Willis is especially enjoyable in a role that gives him latitude to flex his comedy chops while poking fun at his own tough-guy image. Peet also shows promise with the darkly light material, while Henstridge glides through an otherwise thankless role with surprising charm and grace. Perry, of course, is the film's comedic center, offering yet another variation on the "Friends" persona at which years of regular television acting has made him so adept. Less impressive are Duncan and Pollack, who are underserved relative to their talents. The only real disappointment of the lot is Arquette, whose embarrassingly unconvincing French-Canadian accent consistently points up what was clearly poor casting in the first place. Starring Matthew Perry, Bruce Willis, Amanda Peet, Natasha Henstridge, Michael Clarke Duncan, Rosanna Arquette and Kevin Pollack. Directed by Jonathan Lynn. Written by Mitchell Kapner. Produced by David Willis and Allan Kaufman. A Warner Bros. release. Comedy. Rated R for some sexuality/nudity and violence. Running time: 98 min
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