There have probably been worse sequels than this, but at the moment it’s difficult to think of one. Howard Deutch’s follow-up to “The Whole Nine Yards” (2002), Jonathan Lynn’s lightweight black comedy about a retired mob hit-man and the nervous dentist who gets involved with him, is incredibly labored, violently slapdash, and terminally unfunny. The fact that the unimaginatively titled mess is also visually ugly is but a final nail in the coffin.
The original picture was a wafer-thin but fitfully amusing piece, enlivened mostly by Matthew Perry’s surprisingly skillful slapstick, Willis’s deadpan delivery, Kevin Pollak’s over-the-top performance as a murderous mobster and the emergence of Amanda Peet, playing a would-be hit-woman, as a promising comedienne. It also managed to wind up with everybody properly coupled and the storyline satisfactorily completed. So to fashion a follow-up scenarist Mitchell Kapner and screenwriter George Gallo have had to go to absurd, illogical lengths, contriving a narrative at once so simple and so contrived that it goes virtually nowhere, but does so in a breathless, clumsy fashion that spotlights more nastiness than humor. “The Whole Ten Yards,” proves a mirthless, tiresome run that never manages to score.
The premise of the picture is that Laszlo Gogolak (Pollak again, in heavy makeup), the jailed father of the crime lord dispatched in the first installment, is released from the pen aiming to reassert his power and take out his son’s killers. His aides include his other son, the dense but willing Strato (Frank Collison), and some slapstick goons, whom he regularly addresses in a comic-opera Hungarian accent even heavier than the one he used first time around and regularly slaps, socks and pummels. Gogolak easily tracks down the phobic Oz (Perry), despite the dentist’s obsession with security, and kidnaps his wife Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge)–who happens also to be the ex of Jimmy Tudeski (Willis)–to insure his cooperation in locating the supposedly “dead” (and disloyal) hit-man. Oz instead high-tails it down to Mexico, where the supremely domesticated Jimmy now lives with Jill (Peet), who’s still trying to make it as a contract killer despite her bumbling ways; the mobsters, naturally, show up there too. What follows is an elaborate, manic chase, during which Jimmy, Oz and Jill squabble and make up repeatedly as they confront and outwit their goofy pursuers. Unfortunately, in the process they shift positions and attitudes so often that they resemble a writer’s contrivances more than anything resembling human beings. (Even the most clownish comic characters need a modicum of consistency in order to be remotely credible and amusing; these go from anger to love and antagonism to support so abruptly, and with so little explanation, that the narrative thread becomes a complete muddle.) The bad writing leads all of the performers to try much too hard to punch up the material. Perry, who had a certain clumsy charm in the first picture, comes off as insufferable here–he’s more like Ted Wass in the awful “Curse of the Pink Panther” than Peter Sellers in the earlier installments of that series. Willis mugs and preens relentlessly, with almost undisguised contempt for his own work (and the audience)–his early scenes in an apron, caring for chickens and preparing elaborate meals, are disastrously unfunny–and Peet, so winning before, is reduced to bug-eyed embarrassment here. Henstridge is simply wasted in a throwaway part (for which she should probably feel grateful), but Pollak’s language-mangling turn is much more grotesque and far less funny the second time around. (In fact, Collison easily comes close to generate some real chuckles.) The cast really has little chance, though, given the awfulness of the writing and Deutch’s leaden direction, which has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer and often can’t even maintain order, let alone achieve any style. The ineptness of the execution makes the bursts of supposedly comic vulgarity and violence all the grosser. (Compare, for instance, the crude scene with Willis and Perry in bed to the similar, but inspired, bit that Steve Martin and John Candy did in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”). “The Whole Ten Yards” even looks crummy, with pedestrian lensing by Neil Roach and a commonplace production designed by Virginia Randolph-Weaver. It also boasts an intrusively bubbly score by John Debney one constantly wishes he could tune out.
The original picture might not have offered a full nine yards of laughs, but the comedic value of this moronic sequel would have to be measured not even in inches, but in millimeters.