Judge Patrick Bromley discovers that the longest yard is the one between a funny, original film and a lackluster sequel that doesn't measure up.
They missed each other. This time, their aim is better.
When word hit that Warner Bros. would be releasing a sequel to the 2000 Bruce Willis-Matthew Perry comedy The Whole Nine Yards, I was among a very small cross-section of the moviegoing public not to respond with a resounding Why?. I'm a big enough fan of the original film that the prospect of a second outing didn't fill my mouth with throw-up—I actually looked forward to it, if only just a little. The fact that The Whole Ten Yards disappointed even me does not bode well for its chances with a wider audience.
Facts of the Case
The Whole Ten Yards picks up about four years (and one yard, apparently) after the events of the The Whole Nine Yards. Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski (Bruce Willis, Unbreakable) and dental assistant-turned-assassin Jill (Amanda Peet, Igby Goes Down) have relocated to Mexico, where Jimmy has undergone the transformation from sociopathic contract killer to neurotically impotent housewife. Meanwhile, Oz (Matthew Perry, Friends) and Jimmy's-ex-wife-turned-Oz's-current-wife Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge, Dog Park) are expecting a baby back in the States (though no mention is made of the fact that the first film is one of the few that actually took place in Canada, as opposed to having just been shot there), where Oz has undergone the transformation from neurotic and clumsy dentist to neurotic and paranoid survivalist. When notorious crime boss Lazlo Gogolak (Kevin Pollak, Stolen Summer) is released from prison, he kidnaps Cynthia and comes gunning for Jimmy to avenge his son Yanni, killed in the first film (and also played by Pollak). Hilariousness ensues.
About a month ago, I wrote a review of the Ben Stiller / Owen Wilson comedy Starsky & Hutch (2004), in which I condemned the film for being too lazy—it expected us to laugh at things that weren't funny simply because the performers had decent comedic track records. Watching The Whole Ten Yards a few weeks later, I decided that here is a film with the exact opposite problem—everyone involved gasps and struggles so desperately to be funny that they run the film right into the ground. It's as though no one involved remembered the old rule that acting funny does not equate to being funny—it actually has the opposite effect.
The movie is energetic to the point of shrillness: the actors shout and scream and run and fall down, as though whipping up some kind of hyperactive frenzy will fool the audience into laughter. It doesn't work. The Whole Ten Yards is all sound and fury in the worst sense of the cliché—all the onscreen activity in the world isn't going to make a difference if there's nothing beneath it to connect to. The whole thing feels rushed; this is the most slapdash sequel since Lethal Weapon 4. There's a feeling that the filmmakers wanted to "strike while the iron was hot," but that's the first in a laundry list of miscalculations—I'm not sure if the iron ever was hot for this film.
Director Howard Deutch and screenwriter George Gallo reveal early on in their accompanying commentary track that they decided halfway through the film's production to make significant overhauls to the story, forcing them to rewrite the movie virtually as they were shooting. This goes a long way towards explaining the total lack of coherence to the plot—it's an unapologetic mess, with characters and relationships that change drastically from one scene to the next. Character logic is only followed for the particular moment that requires it: Jimmy has lost his mind, but then really he hasn't, even though maybe he still has; Jimmy and Jill are fighting, but then they're not, but really they still are but all along they haven't been. And what exactly is the relationship between Jimmy and Cynthia? Ideas are introduced but never developed or explained. There's an attempt to tie things up (and justify this disaster of a story) by writing it off as a "con," but that's just a cheat. Watch the film again, knowing what you now know, and still nothing makes sense—it doesn't hold up, the way a true con should.
To blame the film's failure solely on the script isn't entirely fair—the cast does its part, too. Bruce Willis, once a gifted comedic actor (Moonlighting), indulges in the kind of smug ad-libbing that plagued his notorious Hudson Hawk and demonstrates what can happen when a director allows a star too much freedom (or, at least, the wrong kind of freedom). Matthew Perry brings his typically limited gifts to his role, but kicks them into overdrive for The Whole Ten Yards—he's all doubletakes and pratfalls, with a too-healthy dose of his usual sarcasm. Even more astonishing is that next to Willis, Perry's performance appears positively understated. Kevin Pollak, buried under makeup as the movie's heavy, in a performance that isn't just bad—it's aggressively awful. Not only does he outdo every other actor in the overacting department, but seemingly goes out of his way not to be funny as well. His performance is an endless series of wrong choices.
The only real saving grace of the film is the performance by Amanda Peet, who stole the original Whole Nine Yards and who, while not exactly stealing the sequel, certainly borrows any scene she's involved in. While the rest of the cast is brash and obnoxious, Peet is quirky and goofy. She finds quiet ways to be effective—and, better yet, funny—in the midst of noisy sequences and a floundering cast. She's also the only actor in the film that manages to generate any kind of sympathy for her character; even when the material doesn't make any sense, Peet sells us on it. Take the sequence where she decides to seduce Perry's character, for example—in terms of story, it makes about zero sense, but Peet allows us to see her thought process and almost (almost) makes it seem motivated. She's the best thing in the movie.
Warner Bros.' presentation of The Whole Ten Yards is serviceable, though nothing special. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image (there is a full screen version of the film also available) is clean and colors are bright, while the 5.1 audio track manages to balance the dialogue with the other action. I can't complain about the technical quality of the disc—it's just that it does nothing to enhance my enjoyment of the film. As mentioned earlier, there is a commentary from director Howard Deutch (The Replacements) and writer George Gallo (Midnight Run), and other than the film's theatrical trailer and a few bonus commercials (I can't even call them trailers), it's the disc's only extra. It's a pretty disturbing listen, as it becomes even more apparent what a hack director Deutch is (and not even an auterist hack, like Garry Marshall) and how casually willing both he and Gallo are to allow the film to be a mess. At times, they even go so far as to pat themselves on the back for the whole thing—it's at those times that you begin to think that they have to be watching a different movie. They just have to be.
The Whole Ten Yards doesn't say anything that The Whole Nine Yards didn't already say, and with considerably more skill and style at that. Check out the first film—one of the few successful black comedies to come out of a major studio in recent years—and take a pass on the uninspired sequel.
Amanda Peet is free to walk. Whack the rest of 'em.
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