Monday, April 23, 2018
The Whole Nine Yards (2000) * * *
Directed by: Jonathan Lynn
Starring: Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, Natasha Henstridge, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kevin Pollak, Amanda Peet, Harlan Williams, Rosanna Arquette
How exactly would you react when you learn a notorious hitman on the run from a Chicago gangster moves in next door? Montreal dentist Oz Oseransky (Perry) is less than thrilled, yet somehow becomes entangled in a web of gangsters, hits, and general goofiness. Material such as this succeeds as comedy because you wouldn't believe a drama would be this ridiculous. That's a compliment, by the way.
Oz' new neighbor is Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski (Willis), who has an uncommon knack for sounding reassuring and menacing at the same time. "I don't think about the people I've killed," he tells Oz, "I think more about how I treat the people who are still alive," The actors perform with a straight face, but we sense the fun they're having by their grins and their sheer enthusiasm. Oz befriends Jimmy, but such a friendship isn't good if you have any interest in staying alive. Jimmy may whack you, or maybe Janni Gogolak (Pollak), who is chasing Jimmy may whack you both. Even Oz' dental assistant Jill (Peet) wants to get into the whacking business and takes on Jimmy as a mentor.
Oz learns to trust no one, but he can't help but fall for Jimmy's blonde, estranged wife Cynthia (Henstridge), which will surely whack Oz if the wrong people find out. Oz' very unhappy wife (Arquette) starts off all of this by wishing Oz were dead so she could collect on his life insurance. The rest of the twists and turns pop up later like the old Whack-a-Mole game in the arcade. You hit one mole and another pops up out of another hole. When Oz meets Cynthia, he says, "I've waited for seven years for something to happen to me, and here you are," I'm sure he wasn't waiting for the rest.
The Whole Nine Yards doesn't step into the black hole of farce where silly things happen for silliness' sake. There is a logic which keeps things at least somewhat believable. That is something of a comic masterstroke right there. The last time I saw a mob comedy this funny was My Blue Heaven (1990), in which Steve Martin played a mobster in the Witness Relocation Program. Steve Martin is the last actor you might think of to play an Italian-American hitman, but it made the movie inspired and funny. The same adjectives can be used for The Whole Nine Yards.