The Whole Nine Yards is a depressingly formulaic movie. Bruce Willis, whom I like, was not enough to save this movie from its horrible script (written by Mitchell Kapner). I considered walking out, which is something I never do.
Even as formulas go, this story is formulaic, not just in scenes here and there, but overarching the whole movie. The setup feels like a sitcom, only more so. It feels like the heuristic output of some comedy-writing software that approximates human storytelling.
Deathtrap, 1982, a black comedy/drama starring Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine, with lots of intricate twists.
Sleuth, 1972, a smart, vicious game of cat and mouse between two great puzzlers (Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, again).
Oz (Matthew Perry) is a mild-mannered dentist, and I think that’s supposed to be one of the jokes. He lives in Toronto with his French Canadian wife Sophie (Rosanna Arquette), whom he loathes. She’s a gold-digging, loveless bitch like her mother, who also lives with the couple.
A new neighbor moves in next door, and after saying hello, Oz recognizes him as Jimmy the Tulip (Willis), a mob hit man who “turned states’ evidence,” as they say in the movies. Although he is rattled by this development, his wife seems fascinated by their neighbor.
Sophie convinces Oz to go to Chicago to get whatever mob reward there is for reporting Jimmy’s whereabouts. If he does that for her, she will grant him the divorce he’s been wanting.
In Chicago, Oz bungles his way through negotiations with Hungarian mob boss Janni Gogolock (played by Kevin Pollack).
Gogolock is such a badly-written character that I have to digress into detail. Here is a mob boss who has no presence. He’s short and bland and has no sense of menace. Clearly we can’t take him seriously. But we can’t take him comically either; the comic caricature is so bad that it consists only of one stereotype: a vaguely Slavic switching of Ws for Vs and Js for Ys. His slow speech and the exaggerated reactions of his henchmen are the only cues that Gogolock is a man to be feared.
One of the people in Gogolock’s entourage is Jimmy’s wife Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge). She’s sent to Oz’s hotel to convince him to lead the Chicago mob to Jimmy. She’s a scared rabbit tangled up in mob business, looking for some way out without anyone having to die. But after meeting Oz she decides what she’s really looking for is a goofy dentist to settle down with. They have sex, naturally, but they also fall in love.
This love is what ultimately made me hate this movie. First of all, there was no chemistry between Perry and Henstridge, so this love seemed shallow from the start. But more importantly, the character of Cynthia is defined by the men around her. Although she’s married to Jimmy, their characters never really would have met, nor fallen in love. And although it sounds like she just wants to settle down with a dentist, that’s only because the plot requires it.
If movies are a way to live vicariously, then this one says your perfect mate needs only beauty, fear, and malleable devotion. Maybe I can’t fully explain, but I find that notion hollow and depressing, so much so that this movie ruined my day.
After Chicago, all the plot threads have been introduced. Back in Toronto Lynn takes them and tangles them. Jimmy thinks of Oz as a friend but learns that he slept with his wife. Meanwhile Sophie has approached Jimmy about having him killed. Janni and his henchmen show up in Toronto to off Jimmy, but Oz has warned Jimmy about the attack. Cynthia comes to Toronto but isn’t sure whether she wants Jimmy, Janni, or Oz to live because of a restricted 3-way bank account.
Needless to say, all the threads become untangled, all the loose ends neatly tied. Everything works out and only five people have to die.
Watching these threads form their intricate cat’s cradle might have been interesting in a better movie, like Sleuth or Deathtrap. If The Whole Nine Yards hadn’t tried to be good-hearted — if it had instead been produced as a cold black comedy, I might have really enjoyed it.
But by the climax, The Whole Nine Yards had already lost me and I just wanted it to be over.