Nine Yards Good Enough For A First Down

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An artist's life culmination must be a scary thing after it's over. For one thing, most great works are accomplished when an artist is relatively youthful, younger than forty for sure. Yes, there are exceptions, but for the most part an artist must spend most of his professional career realizing that he's only going downhill.

Some can cling to the memory of their one or two great works that threw them into the public eye, the works that made them the subject of conversation and adulation. Some can look to their ever-diminishing following that claim the new works are as great as ever, and they can fool themselves that way. Hemingway just killed himself. However, all these people have magnum opuses left to history, to be remembered for years to come. How must it feel to have created an opus that no one will remember two weeks after experiencing it: a masterpiece that will not be seriously noticed, none the less remembered for all time? Not because it was unfairly ignored or beyond it's time, but because it is simply in no way essential. To find that answer all you would have to do is ask Matthew Perry.

The Whole Nine Yards funnels your two favorite black comedy subjects - gangsters and hitmen - into one neat little package. It's good stuff, but none of the material really stands on its own. The lines are certainly workable and have potential, but depend heavily on delivery. Reading the script would be a less than droll affair, for sure. The quality of the movie can be directly correlated to the quality of the actors, and in this area it shines, largely due to efforts of the aforementioned Perry. He plays Nicholas "Oz" Oseransky, a hapless dentist caught in a loveless marriage with a tyrant of a wife and a bitch of a mother-in-law. He is socially awkward, clumsy, bumbling, talkative to a fault, and extremely cowardly. His saving grace is his unassailable good nature which makes all people with decent hearts unable to dislike him, though those without take advantage to no end.

This part, as you might imagine, is no stretch for Matthew Perry, having played pretty much the same role on "Friends" since its inception. He takes the experience that he has honed for years and throws himself full force into the film, and he does a beautiful job. He delivers each line perfectly for maximum comic effect. When he runs straight into a closed glass door, we don't even think about the million billion times we have seen that before. His cowardly nature is always there, and when it comes time to act brave, he doesn't make the mistake of simply shrugging it off, but of working within the frame to actually depict a man who briefly overcomes his nature when he has to. Almost every laugh in the movie is because of him. The other characters simply give him something to react to.

Not that the other actors are inferior or bad, but they, for the most part, simply are straight men to Perry's cowardly lion. Bruce Willis plays Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski, a former mob assassin who sold out his boss to the feds to get five years, and now, eschewing witness protection programs, has come to Quebec (Oz's home town) to escape notice under the moniker of "Jimmy Jones." Throughout the film he acts as the perfect foil to Perry, exuding confidence and grace. He, of course, has a perverted sort of conscience that allows him to kill for money but finds divorce to be a sin. which causes a fair amount of grief to Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge, of Species fame), Jimmy's estranged wife, who would like nothing more than to put her past behind her. Naturally, Oz falls in love quite quickly, but aside from the fact that he can't marry her because she's married, Oz also happens to be married to Sophie (Rosanna Arquette,) his ex-partner's daughter. She won't divorce him cause she needs him to pay her dad's debts and he won't divorce cause she'll strip him of what little he has and leave him in debt.

Of course, Oz does have a nice life insurance policy. Rounding out the cast is Jill (Amanda Peet), Oz's super-bubbly receptionist who is a bit more than she seems to be, Janni Gogolak (an annoying Kevin Pollak,) the son of the mob boss who Jimmy put away, and Franklin "Frankie Figs" Figueroa (Michael Clarke Duncan,) Gogolak's right hand man (and Jimmy's good friend and co-conspirator).

I think at this point you can pretty much figure out a rough outline of the plot. Basically, Oz has to figure out how to marry Cynthia and survive because of the fact that Jimmy, Gogolak, and his wife are, at various points, trying to kill him. The movie lasts quite a while as various plot twists are revealed, and there are quite a lot of them, but it never really gets old, partially because of the plot twists and partially because of Perry's work. If you go and see this film you will see a masterful performance the likes that don't occur all the often. The direction by Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny among others) is well done, not getting in the way, and in one bit where Oz discovers the identity of his neighbor, quite good. This film manages to stick in my mind more than five minutes after the end, a unusual situation for films of this type. And while I doubt it will last in my mind much after tomorrow, that is the fate of the black comedy (The Producers aside). And while there's not nearly enough nudity or cops killed, there is some, so get out there and support those unsung geniuses who do so much for us.


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