The Whole Nine Yards
directed by Jonathan Lynn
(Warner Brothers, 2000)

Let's go with the premise that David Addison, that jokester from '80s TV show Moonlighting, has moved in next door to Chandler Bing of '90s TV show Friends. Addison, for our intents and purposes, is a professional hit man. Chandler has abandoned his New York coffee klatch buddies for dentistry. If you can wrap your mind around that premise, then you'll be able to let it all go and enjoy The Whole Nine Yards, a movie that sometimes struggles with how adult it wants to be but, overall, has some goofy moments and some oddly endearing performances from Bruce Willis as our hitman, Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski, and Matthew Perry as our dentist, "Oz" Oseransky.

Here's the gist: Oz has moved his dental practice from Chicago to Canada, the better to pay off his late felon father-in-law's debts. His wife, Sophie (Rosanna Arquette), says she wants him dead: And she's not joking. Enter Jimmy "The Tulip," on the run from gangsters in Chicago. The Oseranskys recognize their hometown hitman, and Sophie hatches a plan: send her husband to the Chicago gangsters, rat Jimmy out and collect a hefty finders fee. Trouble is, Oz kind of likes Jimmy. Compared to zee Frahnch-Canadien-accented epouse Sophie, Jimmy is a great person to pal around with. Oz goes anyway. He meets with Yanni Gogolack (an even more weirdly accented Kevin Pollack), promises to lead him to Jimmy, falls in love with Jimmy's abandoned wife, Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge) and returns to Canada with Gogolack enforcer Frankie Figs in tow.

But now the tables turn. Frankie's really in cahoots with Jimmy, set to bump off the Chicago gang when they come calling. And, as played by Oscar nominee Michael Clarke Duncan of The Green Mile, Frankie's a huge, gentle (if you're on his side) giant of a hitman. So the motley Canadian "gang" waits for the Chicago gang to come to town. The guys get some help from Oz's receptionist Jill St. Clair (Amanda Peet, who steals virtually every scene she's in). She, of course, has always dreamed of being a hitwoman -- and her idol? Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudesky.

Peet gives The Whole Nine Yards its screwball attitude. When she gets to meet Jimmy it's like watching a hysterical Backstreet Boys groupie being awarded front-row tickets. "I," she announces wide-eyed, "am your biggest fan!" It goes from there. The scenes with Peet and Willis have a great charm as a mutual admiration club catches fire. Willis and Perry also have a camaraderie that's unforced, with some great physical comedy and some dialogue that seems like inspired improvisation. There's only one gripe: the last 15 minutes of the movie seem oddly out of place with the mania that's gone before. There's the obligatory female-only nude scene that strains to be part of the plot and surprises no one (now, if Willis had been nude, that would have been surprising), and a sudden burst of violence that sprays way beyond the bad guys. It's jolting, in a movie that's been pretty good-humored for nearly 90 minutes. But still.

What will stick with you is Peet's weird grin as she meets her hero, Perry's bumbling panic as bad guys close in from all directions, Arquette's petulant demands. And, charming as always, the smirking, joking, dancing Willis.

[ by Jen Kopf ]

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