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

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.