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The Whole Nine Yards

"The Whole Nine Yards" bears all the trademarks of a standard shoot-'em up mob comedy. There's a clueless straight man, a funny mobster, lots of slapstick and a commercial outlook familiar to anyone who saw "Analyze This" or "Mickey Blue Eyes." It's also likable, light entertainment that highlights a round of zany, comic performances from an impressive cast.

The characters are all fairly one-dimensional, but most of the actors manage to give their roles some fresh spin. At the center of the twisty plot is Matthew Perry's Oz, a square, altruistic young Chicagoan who lives in a bland Montreal suburb and is married to a whiny Canadian named Sophie (Rosanna Arquette, sporting an over-the-top-accent).

Their new next door neighbor turns out to be Bruce Willis' silently funny hit man Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski. Strangely enough, Jimmy and Oz actually become friends, although the latter is quick not to sit too far out on the ledge in the company of his new buddy. Oz only wants to keep things peaceful. Wife Sophie has other plans, dispatching her hubby to Chicago to collect on Jimmy's head by turning him into his enemies, the Hungarian Gogolak Gang.

Oz takes the trip, but his conscience gets in the way of turning the Tulip over -- the guy can't stand the idea of anybody being killed. Convincing him otherwise is the very large man in his hotel room named Frankie Figgs ("The Green Mile" star Michael Clarke Duncan). A few kidney punches later, Jimmy finds himself in the company of head Hungarian gangster Janni Gogolak (Kevin Pollack).

He's a peculiar mobster who has a strange way of swapping his w's and v's, as in "I vill kill the wermin." He quickly prepares a trip to Canada along with Jimmy's beautiful scorned wife Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge of "Species"). A tough beauty who's scared and vulnerable underneath, it takes her only a few minutes alone in Oz's suite before both of them melt for each other.

By the time the whole caravan heads north, the characters' motives begin to swap over and over again. Oz's dental assistant Jill (Amanda Peet), who urged him on to Chicago, turns out to have ulterior designs. Ditto his wife, Jimmy, Frankie, Janni and an off-duty cop from the Niagara Falls area.

The last quarter of the film twists and turns as Oz attempts to overcome his bumbling nature, gain some confidence and figure out a way to be with his Cynthia without anyone, or at least a minimal number of people, ending up dead. The obstacles are many (perhaps too many for a standard comedy), but there are a few good laughs along the way.

Willis, while not the comic force of a De Niro in "Analyze This" or "Midnight Run," knows how to command the screen with his presence and a wink. He plays off nicely against Perry, who knows how to work his "Friends" persona for all it's worth. Initially just a boob, the actor manages to milk his character's believable virtuosity and growing self-esteem.

In the minor roles, Amanda Peet scores memorably as the bubbly assistant who admires the Perry character, and is majorly infatuated with Willis. Duncan, getting the chance to play a bit smarter than he did in "The Green Mile," is also a funny delight as a lovable contract killer. Faring less well are Arquette as the insufferable, blackmailing spouse, and Pollack as the grammatically challenged gangster.

Although the script's surprises take away from the picture's development as straight-ahead comedy, and the film's pacing is often more ho-hum than hilarious, the serviceable cinematography by David Franco, jazzy score by Randy Edelman and, most of all, strong performances keep things watchable.

The line-up in "The Whole Nine Yards" is full of first-stringers that are fun to watch here, and could be star players in future projects. Although the end result isn't a complete blow-out, they put up enough points to make this a marginal win.

* MPAA rating: R, for some sexuality / nudity and violence. Times guidelines: all relatively innocent.

'The Whole Nine Yards'

Bruce Willis: Jimmy Tudeski

Matthew Perry: Oz Oseransky

Rosanna Arquette: Sophie

Michael Clarke Duncan: Frankie Figgs

Natasha Henstridge: Cynthia

Amanda Peet: Jill

Morgan Creek Productions Inc. and Franchise Pictures LLC present a Rational Packaging films production, in association with Lansdown Films, released by Warner Bros. Director Jonathan Lynn. Producers David Willis, Allan Kaufman. Executive producers Elie Samaha, Andrews Stevens. Screenplay Mitchell Kapner. Cinematographer David Franco. Editor Tom Lewis. Costumes Edi Giguere. Music Randy Edelman. Production design David L. Snyder. Art director Andre Chamberland. Set decorator Mary Lynn Deachman. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. In general release.