All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

THE WHOLE NINE YARDS

B

Subtlety may be scarce but laughs are plentiful in this
romantic farce about a mob hitman (Bruce Willis), newly
released from jail after turning state’s evidence against a
Chicago boss, whose relocation to Montreal has a decided
impact on the life of his nervous new neighbor, a dentist
(Matthew Perry). Before long the complicated plot has come to
involve the men’s respective wives (Rosanna Arquette and
Natasha Henstridge), the incarcerated boss’s son (Kevin Pollak)
and his beefy enforcer (Michael Clarke Duncan), and Perry’s
gregarious secretary (Amanda Peet).

Mitchell Kapner’s script is pleasantly convoluted, often
managing to capture the same sort of deadpan hilarity that
marks a film like Andrew Bergman’s “The In-Laws.” It does,
to be sure, lose some of its steam in the last twenty minutes
or so, when the desire to pile surprise upon surprise and tie
everything together in a happy conclusion goes to excess. But
it benefits from a cast working at the top of its form.
Willis’ smug smirkiness is perfect for the smooth, unruffled
ex-con, and Henstridge manages to catch a bit of Grace
Kelly’s cool sultriness as the spouse who has reason to fear
him. Duncan, freed from the saintly persona he was forced to
adopt in “The Green Mile,” is loose and charming as big Frankie
Figs, and Peet winning as a dental assistant with a strange
career objective. Even more amusing are Arquette and Pollak,
both of whom adopt marvelously absurd accents (hers
agonizingly French and his supposedly Hungarian) to give their
dialogue a genuinely funny twist. Pollak, in particular,
generates an unconscionable number of chuckles by simply
pronouncing “j” as “y” and happily inverting all his “v’s” and
“w’s.”

The real star of the movie, however, is Perry, whose earlier
attempts to move from “Friends” to the big screen (“Almost
Heroes,” “Fools Rush In,” “Three to Tango”) were miserable
failures. Here his sad-sack persona and hangdog charm are
wonderfully apt, and his considerable penchant for heavy
slapstick is perfectly utilized. If he finds material as good
as this in the future, he may become one of the rare TV
performers to make a really successful transition to features.

Of course, in the final analysis Perry must share the credit
with not only Kapner and his able co-stars, but also director
Jonathan Lynn. The co-creator of what might well have been
the best television series of all time–the BBC’s “Yes,
Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister”–has had a checkered
cinematic career, most recently afflicted by such bombs as
“Sgt. Bilko” and “Trial and Error.” But with “The Whole Nine
Yards” he recaptures the knack for putting across broad humor
with a nimble touch that he exhibited in the 1992 smash “My
Cousin Vinnie.” It’s a return to form that one can only hope
will carry over into his future efforts.

PITCH BLACK

Writer-director David Twohy, who previously gave us the silly
1996 sci-fi flick “The Arrival,” here tries to jazz up what’s
little more than a pale “Alien” ripoff with lots of cinematic
razzle-dazzle. He’s taken the hokey old plot about a bunch of
humans, shipwrecked on a grimly inhospitable planet and trying
to survive against a pack of hideous monsters who fly out of
caves to gobble them up in the dark, and gussied it up with
all sorts of flamboyant film-school tricks: bleached-out,
almost colorless cinematography in the daylight scenes, knife-
edged editing, sharp punctuations of sound, messy hand-held
camerawork, and the like. But the result is a movie that’s
not just dull but seems punch-drunk to boot, like the recent
“Bats” on some psychedelic drug.

The picture begins with the drawn-out crash of the ship, a
disaster in which the captain is killed, leaving strong-willed
docking pilot Fry, a sort of Ripley Lite (Radha Mitchell) in
charge. Other survivors include a teenager (Rhiana Griffith),
who turns out to have one of the most unsurprising secrets in
history; a Muslim cleric (Keith David) and two of his students;
an effete antique dealer (Kewis Fitz-Gerald); a geologist
(Claudia Black); and, most importantly, a cop (Cole Hauser)
transporting a hard-boiled criminal (Vin Diesel) back to the
slammer. Naturally it’s the laconic, highly-muscled con who
proves, in true “Stagecoach” style, to be the real hero of the
bunch when a hoarde of sharp-toothed carnivores come out
during the planet’s “perpetual” night to feast upon the little
band of intrepid stragglers.

To be fair there are a few decent special effects in “Pitch
Black.” The first view of the dinosaur-like monsters swarming
out of the ground is pretty nifty, and there’s an occasional
nice touch as the chase drags on. But for the most part the
characters are dull, the dialogue lame, and the situations
awfully predictable. The technical pizzazz, moreover, just
irritates the audience by making the plot twists even less
than they would otherwise have been.

Under the circumstances it’s not really fair to blame the
actors, whose amateurishness seems appropriate to the material
(although Diesel’s stolid machismo is so over-the-top as to be
pretty laughable). Still, as “Pitch Black” lurches on, a
viewer’s only amusement lies in trying to calculate which of
the characters is going to get picked off next–and when they’re
all so boring, one ends up wishing that every last one will be
dispatched quickly, thereby at least shortening the running-
time.