Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dentist Humor And Dead Bodies: The Whole Nine Yards

The Good: Frequently funny, Intriguing characters, Generally well-acted
The Bad: Predictable plot twists, Disturbing supporting performances
The Basics: In a fun flick, a dentist and a mobster look out for one another when everyone else in their lives wants to kill them.

There are several combinations of unlikely characters that make for good storytelling. The butcher and the vegan come right to mind, though I'm sure I've never seen a film featuring two characters with those affiliations working together. Far more frequently, the combinations are more like the police officer and the criminal as an odd couple. Here, we have the dentist and the hit man. What has the world come to?

Oz is a simple dentist with the worst nag of a wife in cinema since Princess Leia. Sophie and her mother live with Oz for no reason that is fathomable other than so they won't have to go out and get a job. Oz returns home from work one day to discover that his new neighbor is a hitman and when he reveals it to Sophie, she sends him to Chicago to get a finder's fee on the bounty on Jimmy's life. Oz plays the unwilling accomplice, for he likes Jimmy Tudeski as a person. In Chicago, Oz sleeps with Jimmy's wife and meets Frankie, a bodyguard for the mobster Jimmy ratted on. Oz returns home in a load of trouble and fearing for his life.

And rightfully so, for his assistant, Jill, was hired by Sophie to kill him. But she doesn't. See the pattern? The Whole Nine Yards is filled with reluctant hitmen, people who don't want to kill others. Jimmy and Jill like Oz and don't want to kill him, Oz doesn't want to see Jimmy dead and Cynthia, Jimmy's wife, doesn't want to die. But the film has quite the body count for a movie where no one wants to kill anyone. Go figure.

The thing is, the plot is one of the most transparent I've ever seen. Not so much in what is going to happen next, but more in the supposed twists in the film. Sophie is such an unlikable character in the first few minutes of the film that you know if there is any justice in the universe, she will get something bad in the end. Similarly, the attempts at reversals are all dull and predictable. The moment Frankie Figs appears, we know he's not after Jimmy, when Jill insists on meeting Jimmy, we know she's not a simple dental assistant. And the moment bodies begin to fall, we know the skills of the dentist will come into play.

The only thing worse than the predictable plot and character twists are some of the performances. Rosanna Arquette is outrageously loathsome as Sophie, giving the vile wife no stage presence. She feels flat and dispassionate. Similarly, Matthew Perry plays Oz as Chandler (his character from Friends) in suburbia. That is, there's no deviation in his performance between the two roles. It's disappointing. That's not to say it's bad completely; I like Chandler. But, it's not the sign of good acting to take two roles so close and play them as interchangeable.

Conversely, Michael Clarke Duncan gives a great performance as Frankie Figs. As well, Amanda Peet has great presence and range as Jill. Furthermore, she's easy to look at, a technique of using the actress that plays directly into the film.

Bruce Willis, however, outdoes himself. He's charming and funny as Jimmy Tudeski in a way that he hasn't been since Moonlighting. He's very sharp and he gives layers to Jimmy that work. It's refreshing to see a comedic character with different facets. Sometimes it's a facial expression, but more often than not, there is a change in the tone of Willis' voice that defines Jimmy's moods. And that's genius.

Ultimately, the most disturbing aspect of The Whole Nine Yards is in the characters. Why Oz is with Sophie at all is never thoroughly or acceptably explained. It's hard to pity Oz when we know he made a choice to be with Sophie and he makes a continual choice to stay with her. Add to that that the infidelity he has with Jimmy's wife, while enjoyable to watch for the way it re-energizes his character, it makes little sense when one steps back from it. Why would Oz stay with Sophie so long and be so miserable, yet throw it away on the next real good looking woman he comes across?

Who knows? Maybe that's attraction. In the end, The Whole Nine Yards is a fun film that perhaps ought not to be taken too seriously. Then again, it does feature a dentist . . .

For other works featuring Bruce Willis, please be sure to check out:
Friends - Season 6
The Story Of Us
12 Monkeys
The Verdict


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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