Monday, February 22, 2010

Double Feature: Tales of Jimmy the Tulip

The Whole Nine Yards (2000)
Starring: Matthew Perry, Bruce Willis, Amanda Peet, Natasha Henstridge, Roseanna Arquette, Michael Clarke Duncan and Kevin Pollack
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When Oz (Perry), a hapless nice-guy dentist caught in a loveless marriage to an uber-bitch wife (Arquette), befriends his new next door neighbor Jimmy (Willis), his life is transformed overnight. Suddenly, he is surrounded by killers, femme fatales, and revenge-hungry Hungarian gangsters.

"The Whole Nine Yards" is a movie that's part screwball comedy, part romantic comedy, part heist story, part crime drama, and a whole lot of hilarity. It's a movie full of likable characters with a charming air about it that reminded me of a number of comedies or light-hearted mysteries from the 1930s and 1940s (such as "Slightly Honorable", "Half a Sinner", "His Girl Friday", and "Bringing Up Baby", even if the stakes and body count are far higher here than in any of those movies). Matthew Perry's performance in particular reminded me of the hapless,clumsy heroes featured in those sorts of movies. I can't think of anyone who has been able to be goofy and do pratfall after pratfall yet still maintain a sort of dignity like Perry does in this film since Cary Grant.

The fun of this movie is found partly in its twisting and turning story--which sees two major, very well executed major reversals of audience expectations without losing even a tiny of momentum of as it keeps building toward not one but two dramatic and well-done endings--but also in its cast of charming characters presented by perfectly cast actors.

Bruce Willis gives perhaps the most versatile and surprising performance in the entire movie. He plays Jimmy the Tulip, a self-centered, greedy contract killer and Willis projects exactly the sort of menace that you'd expect such a character to exude. At the same time--literally, in more than one scene--he also projects a level of charm and likability that makes you wish he was your next door neighbor. Amanda Peet's character is much the same; she plays the most likable and lovable sociopath I've ever seen in any movie. Their casual, jovial approach to the business of murder is offset by the calm grace of Natasha Henstridge who plays a classic femme fatale. (And, of course, Matthew Perry's Everyman character provies a solid foundation for the other performances, as he stumbles and pratfalls his way through the ever-thickening and deadly plot while giving voice to the sense of horror and outrage the audience should be feeling if they weren't so busy laughing.)

This a very cool comedy that features a stellar cast at their best. I recommend it highly. (And I think I may have to reevaluate my opinion of Matthew Perry. I'd only ever seen him before in the two or three episodes of "Friends" I'd tried to sit through. He's obviously far more talented than anything that was on display there.)

The Whole Ten Yards (2004)
Starring: Matthew Perry, Bruce Willis, Amanda Peet, Kevin Pollack, Natasha Henstridge, and Tasha Smith
Director: Howard Deutch
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Two years after successfully hoodwinking organized crime and authorities to let murderous lovebirds Jimmy and Jill (Willis and Peet), the past comes back to haunt nebbish dentist Oz (Perry) and his gun moll wife (Henstridge) when she is kidnapped by Hungarian gangsters in search of revenge. Oz turns to Jimmy for help, making a bad situation worse and starting a series of events that grow increasingly strange and evermore deadly.

"The Whole Ten Yards" is a clumsily named sequel to one of the best mob comedies ever filmed. It's also so clumsily executed that it will be hard to follow if you haven't seen the film it's a sequel to, "The Whole Nine Yards", because it assumes complete knowledge of the main characters and the events that brought them together in the first place.

Unfortunately, if you saw "The Whole Nine Yards", all you'll take a way from this movie is disappointment. The jokes are mostly lame, the charming sides of Perry, Willis' and Peet's characters that made the first movie so enjoyable is nowhere to be seen here--and even Perry's physical comedy and spittakes seem tired and forced here. Worse, the suspense that mixed easily with the comedy in the original film has been replaced with badly mounted attempts at absurd humor. (Perhaps these differences are the mark of a film helmed by a talented director versus one that isn't?)

Rating a very low 4, "The Whole Ten Yards" is a great disappointment considering the excellence of the film it follows and the great cast that reprised their parts that has nothing of what made the first movie worth watching (including Amanda Peet's naked breasts).

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