`The Whole Nine Yards' * 1/2

Rated R Are they trying...

February 18, 2000

`The Whole Nine Yards'

* 1/2; Rated R

Are they trying to make Matthew Perry into a modern-day Jack Lemmon? Or are they trying to make him into a modern-day Bob Hope? More to the point, just who are "they," anyway, and why won't "they" stop?

"The Whole Nine Yards" is probably the most palatable movie Perry has appeared in after making a name for himself on the hit TV show "Friends." And anyone who's seen his previous outings will know that's not saying much. Here, he plays Nicholas "Oz" Oseransky, a mild-mannered dentist living in Montreal whose life is turned upside down when a mob hit man named Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski moves next door.

Perry, who handles the movie's mildly amusing physical comedy with aplomb, is otherwise upstaged and out-acted by Willis, who turns on the quiet cool to play the Martini-swilling Tulip. Soon enough, both men are blown off the screen by Amanda Peet and Natasha Henstridge, who play the film's love interests chiefly by flashing high-wattage smiles (and, in Peet's case, other body parts).

Rosanna Arquette, as Oz's witchy wife, mangles a French accent ("Peeg! You deesgust mee!"), while Kevin Pollak, as a Chicago mob chief, mangles a Polish dialect by switching V's and W's. If that's not funny enough for you, there are always the dentist-suicide jokes and some really classy humor about pedophilia.

"The Whole Nine Yards" is about as amusing as an auger-bit to the molar. Except with less excitement.

-- Ann Hornaday

`Pitch Black'

* Rated R

In space, no one can hear you scream.

That is, unless you're in a spacecraft showing "Pitch Black" as the onboard movie. Then your cries of anguish over having to watch this monstrosity will wash over the entire galaxy.

Director David Twohy fancies "Pitch Black" as some sort of combo chiller, with crashing spaceships, a captain struggling to regain nobility, a psychotic killer, a collection of eccentric refugees and unknown beasties waiting to prey upon the unsuspecting.

What "Pitch Black" becomes, however, is a gigantic mess in search of a sensible center around which to organize these incoherent elements.

"Pitch Black" has its moments. Vin Diesel has a lot of fun as a prisoner -- with a really neat voice and glowing eyes that see in the dark -- who must lead a band of former passengers across a desert. And Keith David brings a level of dignity as a holy man in charge of male students.

But every other element of this film is, literally, a bloody mess and Twohy gets double blame, since he not only directs, but also shares screenwriting credits with Ken and Jim Wheat.

-- Milton Kent

`Miss Julie'

** Rated R

When August Strindberg wrote "Miss Julie" in the late 19th century, it was considered the height of daring -- a bold examination of the role of class in relations both societal and sexual.

Which just shows you how times have changed. More than a century later, "Miss Julie" is pretty much just an opportunity for two unlikable people to scream at each other, all in the cause of true love.

Saffron Burrows (recently seen as shark bait in "Deep Blue Sea") is an aristocrat's beautiful daughter who decides it might be fun to have a fling with one of the servants. She picks her father's valet, John (Peter Mullan), but then has the misfortune of forgetting this is all supposed to be pretend.

What follows in the story is a tug of wills between a spoiled, shrewish aristocrat and a bitter, emotionally hollow commoner. What follows in the film is an overly strident, high-decibel tete-a-tete between two characters with little personality between them. And both Burrows' and Mullan's performances are unfailingly one-note.

Director Mike Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas") tries to enliven the proceedings with tons of hand-held camera footage, a split-screen scene of passion and lots of foreboding deep focus, and his techniques do make the film at least watchable. But in the end, all he can do is throw a bag of tricks at a film in need of far more substantial help.

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