starring Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Kevin Pollak
screenplay by George Gallo
directed by Howard Deutch
by Walter Chaw Oz (Matthew Perry, racing Ray Romano for title of television personality least suited for the big screen) is a dentist married to ex-moll Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge) and ex-hitman Jimmy (Bruce Willis) is married to ex-dental hygienist Jill (Amanda Peet). Oz is constantly mugging, falling down, running into things, and making funny faces, which leads me to believe that Oz might be afflicted by some toxic stew of epilepsy, Tourette's Syndrome, and limited comic actor's disease--the last of which the sort of thing that otherwise dull or homely children contract to get attention in class. Through a devastatingly disinteresting sequence of convoluted events, our whimsical quartet is menaced by Hungarian mobster Lazlo Gogolak (Kevin Pollak, in his fourth decade of needing a bullet to the head) and his dimwit son Strabo (Frank Collison)--resulting in a shootout and a desperate series of speeches that don't do a thing to explain how Jimmy pretending to be a housewife in a David Lee Roth wig relates to stealing millions from the mob.
The Whole Ten Yards looks for mirth in a running gag about slapping people in the face; in a Willis drunken soliloquy that reminds a great deal of animated Chihuahua Ren's screed in the grip of space madness; in the suggestion that Oz has been anally violated by Jimmy; and in an old woman with flatulence. It has Pollak doing a character in heavy make-up that reminds of Al Pacino mixed with a cheap, second-rate Catskills comedian-turned-bad character actor, and then, when all else fails, it resorts to that reliable dentist standby: the laughing-gas gag. (Only as the gag appears in The Whole Ten Yards, it ends with the accidental death of the patient.) Whole sequences seem to have been left out to streamline the picture, causing one to fairly wonder why it is that a scene in which Oz recaps the entire film in his hyped-up patter was left in and greasing the realization that even if The Whole Ten Yards didn't already represent something of a nadir in modern popular culture in regards to its treatment of race and violence towards women (just the domestic violence issues would fill a dissertation), it would still be a formulaic, deadly unfunny purported comedy that garnered a PG-13 rating because the ratings system is as bankrupt as the strain of Hollywood product it seeks to aggrandize and adore.
I didn't laugh once during The Whole Ten Yards because I'm not amused by gay jokes anymore, have finally grown weary of Bruce Willis beating Matthew Perry, have finally grown bored with the sight of Amanda Peet wandering around in her skivvies, am sick of white comedians doing broad minstrel ethnic face, and no longer have a threshold for erectile dysfunction and flatulence gags. I tired of Perry instantly and Willis gradually, and because I do occasionally have an appreciation for the pathetic, I quietly marvelled that this film was not only worse than the awful Analyze That--it was considerably worse.
But let's talk about something you may not have already gleaned from the trailers. I counted eight people killed during the course of The Whole Ten Yards, all of them by accident except for the last person, who is, of course, the only black woman in the picture. I also counted one lawn jockey and sort of an appalling black doll hanging from a baby mobile. For all that, I'm not interested in talking about The Whole Ten Yards in terms of racism--I mean, the way that Hungarians are treated in this picture as illiterate, mush-mouthed morons is infinitely more humiliating than the way that black people are treated (as threats to be feared). No, I want to discuss The Whole Ten Yards in terms of how it fits into a strange trend in modern American cinema of violence towards pregnant women. Consider Taking Lives (stabbed in the belly) and The Cooler (kicked in the belly)--both fake bellies, but neither the assailant nor the audience know that at the moment of attack; consider Kill Bill and Dawn of the Dead and Finding Nemo and Young Adam and Jersey Girl, and now, The Whole Ten Yards.
More than misogynistic, violence towards pregnant women strikes me as particularly nihilistic, a disrespecting of the sanctity of progeny and the hope that reproduction represents. While many of these films, chief among them Kill Bill and Finding Nemo, find a strong reason for hope nonetheless (the upcoming Kill Bill, Vol. 2, in particular, demonstrates a remarkable grace and respect, ultimately, for the state of motherhood)--the practice of assaulting mothers-to-be should never be a shock device but rather, once broached, always an issue to be discussed with care and concern. We don't take child abuse lightly (and The Whole Ten Yards also emotionally brutalizes a child in one "funny" scene where his father gets the tar beat out of him in front of his kid), so I'm not sure I understand why we seem to be starting to take the mistreatment of expectant mothers lightly. The nihilism part I get: We're a more hopeless and frightened country now than we have been since the late '60s. What I don't understand is how slapping one and threatening to stick a knife in the face of another, both pregnant woman (each of which lowlights of the lower than low The Whole Ten Yards), is throwaway stuff in the highest-profile, biggest-budget comedy of the season. The answer to that should give anyone with a thought in his head a moment's pause. Originally published: April 9, 2004.