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. "The Whole Ten Yards"

At the end of this takeoff on the bumbling hitman-gangster formula, Matthew Perry keeps repeating how confused he's been because he wasn't let in on The Plan. Who was? This bit of dialogue would seem to be director Howard Deutch's and screenwriter George Gallo's attempt to co-opt what will be in all of our minds by the time we get through their thicket of misdirection and inconsistency. He wants to neutralize the objections to his manipulation of a somewhat inept story line. But I've got news for him: a character's expression of confusion isn't going to alter the thought we leave the theatre with.

Which is not to say the film isn't funny. Indeed, this comedy of errors has its moments. For this I credit an assemblage of actors who pull off some broadly physical burlesque routines and a well-timed funny line or two. But, genius it ain't.

After we meet the incompetent Gogolak crime family in a prologue scene that pays off like a nickel bet we pick up the main characters, hit man Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski (Bruce Willis) and dentist Nicholas "Oz" Oseransky (Perry) from the original "The Whole 9 Yards" with the addition of a couple cross-conspiratorializing wives in marriages that were made somewhere south of heaven.

Jimmy is now a hitman sidelined by gourmet cooking which adds to the consternation of wife Jill (super-sexy Amanda Peet), a hit-woman wanna-be. Her attempts at inflicting mortality as a contract killer, however, tend to go awry when her marks fly out of windows or down elevator shafts before she gets a chance to put a hole through them. This is one frustrated lady and Jimmy's fussing around behind an apron doesn't help matters.

What's worse is that he's in a conspiracy with his ex-wife, now married to Oz, exchanging enough flirtations to make it appear there's a some kind of polygamous relationship going on, which is imcomprehensible considering Jill's physical gifts and near-perfect bond with Jimmy. They certainly speak the same language -- another angle that stretches credulity for the sake of the comedy.

But, then, Cynthia (classy Natasha Henstridge) gets kidnapped by the Gogolaks in their effort to flush Jimmy out from hiding. They were supposed to think Jimmy dead, but they know better. The Gogolak clan, headed by brain challenged crime boss/ex-con Lazlo (heavily disguised Kevin Pollak), is convinced that Jimmy's torch for his ex still burns strongly enough to bring him out in the open for a little payback. Y'get it?

When the issues become so cross-pollinated that you don't know what the story is leading to, you're forced to sit back and try to enjoy the zany departures from anything that might relate to reality and to a story with objectives that bounce all over the place. It smacks of a farce that took shape on the set and at the whim of those involved.

The general comedic timing is good; Perry gets overbroad in searching for his laugh producing schtick, Willis holds onto the colorful misbehavior of a comic strip character and Peet is the top draw of the enterprise. Henstridge is solid; Pollak is a flyball out of the park and the rest of the crew strain to justify the space they take up. Deutch, the director, might have done better to start over in a search for something more than antics and phony mystery with which to fill the abiding vacuity.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Bruce Willis and Amanda Peet
Hitpeople in action

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