As it turns out, "The Whole Ten Yards" is not as desperate, unfunny, and nonsensical as its title. It's worse. Worse than you can imagine. Unless, of course, you've imagined 90-something minutes of bloopers and outtakes that congeal into a story -- much the way a scab is formed.
Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Natasha Henstridge, and Kevin Pollak reclaim their roles from "The Whole Nine Yards," a movie that back in 2000 charmed you into liking it. The screenplay, about a hitman, a dentist, their wives, a crusty mobster, and a dental hygienist who wants to be a hitman, was silly, and the directing was sort of breezy. The actors appeared to be having fun, and their enthusiasm was catchy.
"The Whole Ten Yards" reunites Perry's Nicolas "Oz" Oseransky, DDS, and Willis's retired contract killer, Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski, for a plot whose details are illogical even once they're explained to you. Jimmy has moved to Baja and turned domestic. He pushes a vacuum cleaner and roasts meat while wearing clamdiggers, bunny slippers, and a headscarf that can't cover all his ratty blond hair. He looks like the hausfrau of Margaritaville.
While he cleans, his upbeat wife, Jill (Peet), takes up the assassination duties and discusses having a baby with Jimmy. Their bliss is interrupted when the ancient Hungarian gangster Lazlo Gogolak (Pollak), fresh from the pokey, kidnaps Cynthia (Henstridge), Jimmy's ex-wife, who's now the spouse of Oz. Naturally, she must be saved. Yet screenwriter George Gallo makes the loony decision to have Jimmy be blase about getting Cynthia back, which makes the whole mess seem even less urgent.
The workhorse director Howard Deutch has made a few dogs ("Grumpier Old Men," "The Replacements"), but this is his first turkey. It seems to be happening in slow motion or underwater. Things are so haphazard the movie feels almost avant-garde. The blown-up cars and gunshots are weirdly welcome, though they're the only evidence of conviction. Otherwise, the picture is clogged with painful non sequiturs (Are Jimmy and Oz really waking up in bed together?) and dopey side plots.
Peet, who was so good in the first movie, looks like she's about to crack up in some scenes and is embarrassingly weepy in others. Pollak, under a ton of geezer makeup, works even harder. He spits out lines the way Regis Philbin's cousin from Budapest might. Henstridge just sits in a chair, and, in one scene, plays cards with the woman who plays Gogolak's gassy 103-year-old mother.
Perry's disbelief, impatience, and exasperation expose what a sorry excuse for a movie this is. The screenplay has Oz question every development like a brat in the back seat. His entire fidgety, stammering performance is one long "are we there yet?"
And Willis is kept on a sporadic diet of terrible jokes about Jimmy's "erectile dysfunction." He squints and strains through the role, as though he'd taken a laxative to produce comedy. (It doesn't work.) He and Perry have no chemistry; they don't work together for laughs; they get out of each other's way. Their lack of teamwork makes you long for Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in "Midnight Run," a far superior movie about a hitman and an uptight white-collar guy.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.