IS Bruce Willis trying to change his image? Well, if he is, he surely did a good job in The Sixth Sense even while playing a ghost. In the two films under review The Whole Nine Yards and The Story of Us, he is cast in two kinds of roles. The first is a spoof in which he plays a hit-man who, for a change, becomes a target and the second is a love story dealing with the shenanigans of marriage.
As Jimmy "The Tulip", Tudeski, Bruce Willis is a much-feared hit man who moves into the suburban Montreal neighbourhood next to simpleton dentist Nicholas "Oz" Oseransky (Matthew Perry) and though Oz is mortally afraid of Jimmy, it is Jimmy who takes a liking to the simpleton. Though they are poles apart they have one thing in common — someone is trying to kill them.
For Jimmy, avoiding a couple of killers is child’s play. But for Oz it is a whole new ball game. To stay alive they have to stick together. What Oz is blissfully unaware of is that his nagging wife Sophie (Rosanna Arquette) wants him dead and is working towards that end. To further complicate matters Jimmy’s sexy wife Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge) gives Oz the glad eye and so he finds himself between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The plot thickens when Oz’s bubbly dental assistant Jill (Amanda Peet) wants to be an understudy to Jimmy and in the process they fall in love as Janni Gogolok (Kevin Pollack) and his Hungarian gang are all set to eliminate Jimmy at the behest of Cynthia.
Actually, the plot is reminiscent of Analyze This in which Robert DeNiro was the mafia boss and Billy Crystal his psychiatrist but it lacks the inventive style and sparkle of those two very talented actors or the sensitive handling by director Harold Ramis. In this film director Jonathan Lynn begins with an unlikely situation and though Bruce Willis seems to get his act right it is the bumbling Matthew Perry who is too physical and his mimicking of Jim Carrey provides the film with its weakest moments.
It is only in the second half that the fare improves and that is because of the romantic angle, the changing partners game and the twists and turns in the plot. Matthew Perry tends to get on one’s nerves at times while at others he is quite cute, but it is the suave Willis who holds the film together. At times he may try and imitate Jack Nicholson but he certainly has the talent for spoofing where he displays more talent than just pounding his fists against the enemy.
Comparative newcomer Amanda Peet is both expressive and enthusiastic and her change of moods are handled with ease, coming close to the already-established Rosanna Arquette. As for Natasha Henstridge of Species fame she just has to play the bimbo which she manages to do without even trying hard. But when all is said and done (and this film is not unduly prolonged like so many we have come to see) it is an enjoyable entertainer and that is saying enough in todays famine of good films.
But Willis isn’t as successful in the romantic mould and The Story of Us is predictable, at times boring, and at no time even remotely absorbing as it recounts yet another instance of incompatible partners in marriage. And for this scriptwriters Alan Zweibel and Jessie Nelson have to share most of the blame for the cliches and the long plateaux in which the film seems to settle in.
Katie (Michelle Pfeiffer), a crossword-puzzle designer, is the designated driver of the marriage who likes having everything in its place, knowing that there are answers to the little questions and having a sense of closure.
Ben (Willis) is a writer, a true romantic who believes in happy endings. But his wife compares him to a little boy who draws the world the way he wants it, and not the way it actually is. So the Jordans with two growing children, Josh (12) and Erin (10) find themselves in trouble after 15 years of near-happiness.
"The loudest silence is the ones that have been filled with everything that has already been said," is one of the cutest lines in the film. But these are few and far between and director Rob Reiner who is more at home in action dramas seems to struggle with this rather-hackneyed subject because there is nothing new or inventive in it. The family discusses its highs and lows little knowing that they are providing many more lows than highs to the audience.
Resorting to a liberal use of the flashback technique to recount the happier times this couple shared, the fare tends to become disjointed. The long pauses and enigmatic ponderings do not imbue even an element of suspense and the trial separation, when the children are on a summer camp, isn’t rife with expectation. It is mere words, words and words.
May be Bruce Willis suffers by contrast because we’ve seen Michelle Pfeiffer and the case in which she enters a variety of roles like for example One Fine Day opposite George Clooney. It, however, wouldn’t be fair to completely blame Willis for the nondescript role but he is certainly more suited to spoofing.
And when one finally comes to the climax one feels, well it could have happened anytime during the second half. It is a film which lacks any cumulative buildup. In fact there is no beginning, middle and end. It only finishes when it gets out of breath and that surely isn’t the best kind of film. It also reiterates the adage that two big names do not necessarily make a good film.