"The Whole Nine Yards" scarcely needed a reprise, wrapping up every loose end and sending its heroes and anti-heroes into happily-ever-after-land. The strain needed to extend "The Whole Ten Yards" a yard -- and to feature length -- is so evident it breaks new pic's comedy spirit, making it a dubious member of the Sequel Hall of Shame.

This review was updated on Apr. 6, 2004.

“The Whole Nine Yards” scarcely needed a reprise: the 2000 pic pretty much wrapped up every loose end and sent its heroes and anti-heroes into happily-ever-after-land. The strain needed to extend “The Whole Ten Yards” a yard — and to feature length — is so painfully evident it breaks new pic’s comedy spirit, making it a particularly dubious member of the Sequel Hall of Shame. Mildly good takes of $57 million domestically and $61 mil overseas by the first edition could be matched this time, but only if Warners’ marketing aim is aces and if grieving “Friends” fans show up opening weekend to wish co-star Matthew Perry well.

Although “Nine Yards” was only occasionally funny, it enjoyed a certain breezy, unfettered quality carried mainly by Perry as bumbling dentist Oz, flirtatious wannabe assassin Amanda Peet and the presence of co-star Bruce Willis as likable hit man Jimmy. Re-assembling the core cast (with one initially clever twist) is one of the few smart moves in “Ten Yards,” while replacing helmer Jonathan Lynn with Howard Deutch (“The Odd Couple II”) proves a fatal mistake.

After a brief flashback that has only the faintest of payoffs at the finale, pic shows Jimmy and Jill (Peet) currently holed up in a Mexican Riviera town. They squabble as he tiresomely tries to keep up his cover as a “housewife” wearing an apron working around the kitchen while she is back from yet another botched assassination assignment.

In Los Angeles, Oz is more paranoid than ever and tripping over his own feet. His wife Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge) comes off as the picture of patience for putting up with Oz’s unbelievably irritating obsessions.

To complete the picture of the two couples, screenwriter George Gallo makes Cynthia pregnant with Oz’s child. Gallo then posits that elderly and long-incarcerated crime boss Laszlo Gogolak (Kevin Pollak) is being released from prison near L.A., brimming with vengeance against Jimmy and Oz for killing his son (played by Pollak in first pic).

Why the ultra-cautious Oz would want to be anywhere near Laszlo’s prison is incomprehensible. Worse, Jimmy’s lame stunt of acting like he is doing housekeeping duties at their home as a cover (a mirthlessly unfunny opening number in Willis’ feeblest comedy performance) would appear useless given that Jill is out trying to rub out folks –presumably making them both big, fat targets.

Since it does truck in the old, goofy movie tradition of gunplay mixed with nonsense, pic might have been more successful if the comic shtick were better judged. But Pollak’s Laszlo, slathered in absurd, left-of-Liberace makeup and hair design, is a messy goulash of improv and manic over-the-top indulgence unlike anything this talented comic has done before. Rather than adding anything fresh, Pollak’s business simply competes with Willis’ and Perry’s characters.

Lazslo’s hapless surviving son Strabo (Frank Collison) is just the goofball the doctor ordered for this kind of movie, but the filmmakers fail to exploit his character’s potential.

Momentum, and any possible second wind for pic, is soon gone in a strenuously overlong and miscalculated sequence of events at a Los Angeles motel. Wrap-up and turning-of-tables on Laszlo is given the wink-and-nod approach suggesting that everyone involved believes the antics are much more clever than they actually are.

The strain of trying too hard weakens the perfs of Willis, Pollak and, sadly, even Peet, who was a bright spot in the original. Perry and Henstridge are more successful at carrying on the same tone as before, but Perry’s door-bumping and foot-tripping act takes Dennis Weaver’s buffoonish stumbling in “Touch of Evil” one degree further. Collison, owner of one of moviedom’s funniest mugs, provides more pleasure here than anybody else.

Canuck locations of first entry are replaced this time by Mexican spots, which are presented in an unpleasantly Hollywoodized take. Pic’s look is slick and easy on the eye, with Seth Flaum’s editing a sharp plus and John Debney’s jokey score a distinct negative.

The Whole Ten Yards

Production

A Warner Bros. release of a Warner Bros. and Franchise Pictures presentation of a Cheyenne Enterprises production in association with Zweite Academy Film . Produced by Arnold Rifkin, David Willis, Elie Samaha, Allan Kaufman. Executive producers, Andrew Stevens, Tracee Stanley , David Bergstein, Oliver Hengst. Co-producers, Joseph Merhi, James Holt, Andrew Sugerman. Directed by Howard Deutch. Screenplay, George Gallo, based on characters created by Mitchell Kapner; story, Kapner.

Crew

Camera (FotoKem and Deluxe color), Neil Roach; editor, Seth Flaum; music, John Debney; music supervisor, Spring Aspers; production designer, Virginia Randolph-Weaver; art director, Sally Thornton; set decorator, Peg Cummings; costume designer, Rudy Dillon; makeup, Julie Pearce; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Edward Tise; supervising sound editor, Trevor Jolly; special effects supervisor, R. Bruce Steinheimer; stunt coordinator, Rick Avery; associate producer, Stephen Eads; assistant director, Justin Muller. Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, March 24, 2004. MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Jimmy - Bruce Willis Oz - Matthew Perry Jill - Amanda Peet Laszlo - Kevin Pollak Cynthia - Natasha Henstridge Strabo - Frank Collison Zevo - Johnny Messner Yermo - Silas Weir Mitchell Julie - Tasha Smith Anya - Elisa Gallay
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