The Whole Nine Yards (2000) ***
Directed by Jonathan Lynn. Written by Mitchell Kapner. Photography, David Franco. Editing. Tom Lewis. Production design, David L. Snyder. Music, Randy Edelman. Produced by David Willis and Allan Kaufman. Cast: Bruce Willis (Jimmy Tudeski), Matthew Perry (Oz Oseransky), Rosanna Arquette (Sophie), Michael Clarke Duncan (Frankie Figs), Natasha Henstridge (Cynthia), Amanda Peet (Jill), Kevin Pollak (Janni Gogolak), et al. A Warner's release. 100 minutes. R (violence)
"Joie de vivre" (the pleasure of being alive) finds its complement here as the Joy of Killing, the pleasure of whacking others. Both joys coexist.
"The Whole Nine Yards" is a comedy (better yet, a farce) of murders. Funny films with corpses are a sub-genre of which the British "Kind Hearts and Coronets" with Alec Guinness may well be the most illustrious ancestor. Gangster comedies are not uncommon either. Even so, this new picture has so much to offer in characters that it is enough original and demented to create its own sub-sub-genre. That it has touches of Coen Brothers movies (and perhaps "Pulp Fiction") -- whether planned or a coincidence, conscious or not -- does not remove a thing from its novelty.
I don't think I've laughed so much at mayhem since John Waters's "Serial Mom" of 1994. Or chuckled along with the audience instead of feeling annoyed at giggles I find totally unjustified.
In a neat, higher (but not highest) income suburb of Montreal (the real city, not a studio fake or a stand-in) dentist Oseransky, aka "Oz," lives miserably with his French-Canadian wife Sophie and the latter's first abandoned, then widowed mother.The ladies are nasty critters who bitch at hangdog-faced Oz for being this unheard of creature, a dentist with financial troubles.
Beautiful Jill, Oz's dental assistant, was recently hired as it turns out (this is worked cleverly into the plot). She's lively and speaks to Oz with strange familiarity (there's a reason for this, too).
When a man moves in next door to the Oz home, the dentist recognizes him (don't ask) as Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski, a contract killer with 17 corpses to his credit. He had been a witness against his own Chicago Hungarian (sic) acolytes in the deliciously named the Gogolak Gang. Jimmy got away with just five years in prison. When released he haughtily refused the Witness Protection program.
Things get enormously complicated. Jimmy takes a shine to the trembling Oz. Greedy, imperious Sophie, convinced that the vengeful Gogolaks must have a put a price on Jimmy, dispatches the spineless Oz to Chicago so that he'll get a finder's fee.
What develops in the Windy City is enormously complicated as well funny. There is a kind of Commedia dell'Arte spirit of improvised situations, though I suspect they were carefully scripted.
The maze of characters who are not what they seem to be, and then some, includes a huge black man (Michael Clarke Duncan of "The Green Mile") with delivers punches while beaming. He towers over little Oz. The gang's leader Janni Gogolak speaks in a comically weird accent. Statuesque beauty Cynthia adds more complications, has not had sex for five years (!) and is ... (no, I won't reveal that).
When Oz returns to Montreal things get even more tangled up, what with Sophie having offered a contract on her husband (insurance money makes him worth more dead than alive) to Jimmy, then to someone else. What with starry-eyed Jill meeting Jimmy and confessing that her dream was to become a hit-woman. What with escalating complications.
It's a perfect cast: Amanda Peet, terrific, adaptable, likable. Matthew Perry, splendid as a victim-to-be mouse that does not roar. Bruce Willis, with his extraordinary cool. Rosanna Arquette with her phony accent. Natasha Hendridge who goes beyond the decorative. Michael Duncan and his black humor. Kevin Pollak with his Pythian menaces.
The chain of people who want others whacked makes this is a comedy of killing grounds -- but its loony unreality, its super-spoof mood, defuse the violence. The complexities of this demented tale might confuse you, assuming you wish to apply logic -- but the brio is such that you don't give a hoot about who, what, where, when, why, or how.
Some will call this a film noir, but it isn't really. Nor do its mostly sunny photography and sets use the traditional light-and-shadows and fog-and-rain "noir" look. Even the excellent, discreet but effective score is light.
British (born in Bath) actor-director Jonathan Lynn, schooled at Cambridge, and a nephew of Israel's Abba Eban, was, in the 1980s, the creator of the great, ironical Brit TV series "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister." His feature debut was with "Clue" (1985).. There followed "Nuns on the Run,"" The Distinguished Gentleman,"" My Cousin Vinny,"" Greedy,"" Sgt. Bilko," and "Trial and Error." That's definitely a very mixed bag, from bad to mediocre. One factor in common which seriously weakened those movies was uneven tempo. The infectious "The Whole Nine Yards" has a first-rate, non-stop rhythm as well as many other virtues, including a first produced script by the otherwise unknown Mitchell Kapner. It's a huge upward leap for Jonathan Lynn.