I'm being careful. I'm a dentist.
Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, and Michael Clark Duncan shine in a comedy where everybody wants to kill somebody with The Whole Nine Yards, a smart, funny film. Snappy dialogue and plenty of physical comedy lead a theme of amoral disregard for life to create a dark comedy that could have gone straight film noir without much difficulty. Warner Bros. has recently released a DVD that does justice to the film in all areas.
Facts of the Case
Dentist Nicholas "Oz" Oseransky (Matthew Perry, yes the Friends guy) suffers from a wife who makes his life a living hell and a lack of self-esteem. He is shocked to find his new next-door neighbor is none other than mob hit-man Jimmy "the Tulip" Tudeski (Bruce Willis). The story takes many twists and turns as Jimmy strikes up a friendship with Oz, who is pressured by his wife to tell the mob where Jimmy is for a fee, the leader of which holds Jimmy's wife (played by Natasha Henstridge—Species) hostage, who Oz falls in love with. That is a mere sample of this story that turns on a dime and adds new conflicts at will.
I should start out here by explaining that I'm not a fan of the show Friends and have never seen a complete episode. The show might be great; I just never got into it. Telling me a sitcom is Number 1 in the country doesn't inspire me to watch it. But that's another story. The cast of Friends have all made their ventures into feature films, most of which I am familiar with, and the results have been decidedly uneven. Usually the "Friend of the month" in a picture isn't bad if he or she plays a supporting role, but some of their attempts to play the lead and carry the film haven't been exemplary. That was before Matthew Perry played Oz in this film. I don't know anything about his TV character Chandler (the name of which I found in my research) or whether he's simply playing the same guy as one critic claimed, but Perry is terrifically funny in this picture. His ability for slapstick and physical comedy is among the best I've seen in recent years, and I was very impressed with his ability to make his own character more weak and humble than a "star" needs to. Oz starts the film as the perpetual victim, who can't get restaurants to leave mayonnaise off his sandwiches or talk back to his shrewish wife. Perry's ability to play the meek and abused dentist is contrasted nicely as his character finally gets into the swing of the events and people that have turned his life upside down. His top-notch performance has much to do with how funny and successful this film becomes.
Some film viewers may forget that Bruce Willis cut his teeth on comedy before becoming an action star, and came from television to the large screen himself once upon a time. I was impressed by his ability to be really funny while low-key and playing it straight. A surprisingly unselfish actor considering he was the "money" both in name and in acquiring the financing for the film; director Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) had to keep giving him more to do because he was adding so much to the picture and he wanted more. That is, the director wanted more, not the big name star actor. Willis plays a likable killer with a very strange sense of morality, which is not that easy to do, and has some great lines and moments.
The supporting cast does more than just help support the main actors in the film. In fact, Amanda Peet (Isn't She Great, Jack and Jill) has perhaps the freshest performance of all. She is genuinely funny, with unexpected outbursts and even expressions that each add a laugh. And lets not leave out the huge lovable bear Michael Clark Duncan, who came onto this film right after finishing his Oscar nominating turn in The Green Mile. A killer with a great sense of humor, his character Frankie "Figs" lets the laughs play off of him most of the time, though he gets a few scenes and lines of his own. Unselfish is the word that keeps coming up for me as this cast treats every actor in this way, giving each their moment to shine and more. A special note for great character actor Kevin Pollak, who only has a few scenes but who chews the scenery nicely when he is on, and plays a refreshingly different take than the stereotypical mob boss.
All that just for the performances! The film is also smartly directed by Jonathan Lynn, who I really admire both for his eye with a camera and for his way of getting the best out of his actors. He was always open to suggestion, and let the actors explore their roles somewhat to find the best nuances. I was surprised to find out what was done on the fly rather than being part of the script. The duct tape joke was improvised? Genius. Don't ask. At any rate, Lynn milks these scenes until they work, and can also be commended for the degree he made the city of Montreal a real part of the film. It is nice to find a beautiful city that hasn't been mined for a hundred movies already.
This is not a story that you can miss a few minutes of while you go get a refill on your popcorn in the theater. Plot developments keep coming, and as such I think it works even better for home theater than the local cinemaplex. But follow along with the snakelike curves of the plot and things will stay straight in your mind, and fit together like a Chinese puzzle box. In general, I'm not a fan of convoluting a plot, but in this case it worked.
It should go without saying I recommend the film; I've already shown it to friends and family who all enjoyed it. So I'm pleased to report that Warner has done a fine job with presenting the film on DVD as well. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is very fine, with good shadow detail, deep, solid blacks, and natural looking fleshtones. The source print is terrific, which you could expect for a new film, without nicks, scratches, or graininess. Contrast and brightness levels are very good and consistent, and the colors vibrant, and rich without blurring or blooming.
The soundtrack effortlessly expresses all demands on it as well, which isn't saying a tremendous amount for this comedy and more dialogue driven film. In this regard it is a rather typical comedy/drama soundtrack, with little use for surrounds except for ambient sounds and the Randy Edelman musical score. The front soundstage is wide and spacious enough, with well-integrated dialogue across the front three channels, and a nice use of the spaces between left and right mains and the center. The sound quality is clear and distinct without any complaints. Expect your subwoofer to wake up only occasionally.
The extras aren't extensive from a marketing "bullet point" standpoint, but what is there makes up for it. There is a commentary track from director Jonathan Lynn, who delves into each scene with a keen memory for how it was shot, how the location was found, and any improvisations or stories surrounding the shooting of it. While it isn't always exciting, it is well above average for such tracks and provides a lot of information. More fun are the interview snippets from each of the main actors and the director, each lasting one to two minutes. The actors gleefully make fun of each other, and the director, even as they share their mutual respect. Lynn is no exception who gives as good as he gets with Matthew Perry. Very amusing, and though it doesn't last long is my favorite of the extras. Cast filmographies (but no bios), and a trailer complete the extra content.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The transfer looks very good, and I gave it high praise, but it is not without flaw. There are some instances of ringing or a very small halo effect at times, and some shots are softer in detail than others. None of it was highly distracting but it was noticeable.
I would have liked more from the extra content, especially the interviews which were too short. I would have preferred putting them into a nice 40-minute feature where they could have done and shown more.
I don't have much to complain about with the film, but I will anyway. Making Montreal, a city in the French part of Canada a real part of the story was nice, but Rosanna Arquette (Pulp Fiction, Buffalo '66) used a strange French Canadian accent that really got grating after awhile. Since her character was eminently unlikable anyway, this isn't a terrible thing, but I'd have preferred we left the stereotypical accent out. Nothing wrong with her acting, but the accent kept getting in the way, which is why I did not list her among the other strong performances. Likewise Kevin Pollak's strange Hungarian pseudo accent didn't work that well, but it wasn't nearly as bad or get as much screen time.
For some, Matthew Perry is so well known for his role on Friends that it may distract them, and if you are not observant you could find yourself not understanding something in the story development. These were not problems for me, but some few have mentioned them.
If you haven't seen The Whole Nine Yards, you should. It may not be the funniest movie of all time, but it worked for me on a variety of levels, and after three viewings it still gets a lot of laughs. Fans of the film or the stars will probably enjoy it as well, and the DVD warrants purchase. Friends haters may want to rent it first, but I think you will be pleasantly surprised. This combination of physical and situational comedy with great performances gets my recommendation.
Warner and everyone involved with the film are all acquitted, except I am granting an injunction against the use of grating accents.
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