Is a guy who has killed seventeen people necessarily a `bad' guy? Not a question everybody is going to have to ask themselves, to be sure, but what if that guy moved in next door to you? It's a situation that just may induce an introspective moment or two. Which is exactly what happens in `The Whole Nine Yards,' directed by Jonathan Lynn and starring Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry. Hit-man Jimmy `The Tulip' Tudeski (Willis) ratted out his boss in Chicago, and now he's on the lam. He makes his way to Canada, where he buys a house next door to a hapless dentist, Nicholas `Oz' Oseransky (Perry), who is suffering from inherited debts and a shrew of a wife, Sophie (Rosanna Arquette), not to mention a mother-in-law from Hell (Carmen Ferland). When he realizes who his neighbor is about to be, his first instinct is to run, but Sophie has other ideas. It seems there's a price on Jimmy's head; one Janni Gogolack (Kevin Pollak) would like to take his revenge on the guy who's responsible for his father going away for a long, long time. So Sophie squeezes Oz into a corner until he agrees to go to Chicago and meet with Janni to put the finger on Jimmy. Not a great idea, Oz thinks, but it at least sounds like a nice vacation, so he goes. But, of course, he should have stayed with his instincts, because he soon finds himself looking down the barrel of trouble. And the only way out, it seems, is down...
What Lynn put together here is actually a fairly light-hearted, black comedy; the nature of the story dictates that there will be violence in it, and there is, but much of it is implied rather than graphic. The pace is good, and Lynn develops the characters enough to let you know exactly who they are and what they are all about. There's not a lot of depth, but it's not necessary; the actors have each made their respective characters unique to a point that puts them beyond stereotype, and it works perfectly for this film and the story. Some of what happens is inevitable, though not necessarily predictable, and certain aspects will keep you guessing right up to the end. Typical of a comedy that leans to the dark side, nothing in this story is cut and dried.
Willis is perfect as Jimmy The Tulip, giving a rather reserved, subtle performance that puts Jimmy's guarded but confident manner into perspective. Underneath it all, this guy is really rather cold-blooded (he has to be, given his choice of employment), but his relationship with Oz gives it some warmth, at least externally. Like Chow Yun-Fat in `The Killer,' Jimmy is likable, but when you consider at arm's length who he is and what he is capable of, it's a bit disconcerting. And that's one of the aspects of the film that is so interesting-- because you know who and what Jimmy is, you never really know which way things are going to turn.
Perry is excellent, as well, as `Oz.' Henpecked and in dire straits, he is something of an updated version of the W.C. Fields character in `It's A Gift' or `The Bank Dick,' although a bit darker. Perry is charismatic, has impeccable timing with his delivery and uses physical comedy to great effect. His reactions to Willis and the situations in which he finds himself are brilliant and hilarious, and he seems to instinctively know just how far to take it to make it work. And it's the little, seemingly insignificant things he brings to the character that give the film that extra something and creates some memorable moments.
The supporting cast includes Michael Clarke Duncan (Frankie Figs), Natasha Henstridge (Cynthia), Amanda Peet (Jill St. Claire), Harland Williams (Special Agent Hanson) and Serge Christianssens (Mr. Boulez). It may not be the most original movie ever made, but `The Whole Nine Yards' is funny, has a great cast of actors who have taken characters you've basically seen before and made them their own, and does exactly what a film like this is supposed to do: Entertain. It's not going to make you ponder the universe or the state of the world today, but it's going to give you a couple of hours of laughs and some residual chuckles. Which, when you think about it, is not such a bad deal. It's the magic of the movies. I rate this one 7/10.