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‘The Whole Ten Yards’ shoots blanks

Matthew Perry and Bruce Willis re-team for this tired, unnecessary sequel. By John Hartl

Summer must be near. The multiplexes are moving away from remakes (“Dawn of the Dead,” “The Ladykillers”) and into sequel territory. The second “Kill Bill” and “Shrek 2” will get most of the attention, but the first pre-summer sequel out of the gate is a followup to the four-year-old crime farce, “The Whole Nine Yards.”

Bruce Willis once more plays a deadpan hitman and Matthew Perry is his nervous dentist pal in “The Whole Ten Yards,” which does for sequels — and cute title variations — what “Analyze That” did for “Analyze This.” In other words, it’s numbingly unnecessary, shockingly unfunny, market-driven junk.

“Nine Yards” had a so-so script, but at least the casting was sharp, and director Jonathan Lynn made the most of Perry’s pratfalls and Willis’ amused reactions. Part of the charm of that movie was Lynn’s careful setting up of their relationship. He had already demonstrated a talent for the genre by directing Marisa Tomei in her Oscar-winning performance in “My Cousin Vinny,” and he focused again on characters rather than the mayhem they create.

Lynn has departed, however, and “Ten Yards” is the work of a different writer-director team. To put it mildly, director Howard Deutch and screenwriter George Gallo just don’t get it. They’re more interested in the mayhem — the contract killings, the cars blowing up, the silencers shooting holes in walls and doors — and they haven’t a clue about how to make any of it funny. As a result, everyone overacts, the one-liners just lie there and die there, and John Debney’s annoyingly emphatic score works like an ever-present laugh track.

Before it starts throwing in fart jokes and a running gag about the Willis character’s impotence, Gallo’s script appears to be a reasonable extension of  “Nine Yards.” The first film was set in Montreal, where Willis’ ex-con was hiding out next door to Perry’s unhappily married dentist. Perry had an affair with Willis’ estranged ex-wife (Natasha Henstridge) while Perry’s goofy assistant (Amanda Peet) fell for Willis.

In the sequel, Peet and Willis have married and moved to Mexico, where she’s trying to establish herself as a contract killer, and he’s so taken with retirement and domesticity that she accuses him of becoming a male Martha Stewart. Perry and Henstridge have also married and moved to Los Angeles, where she is kidnapped by a Hungarian gangster (Kevin Pollak) and his thugs.

Perhaps nobody works harder to make something memorable of his character than Pollak, who appears in a prologue that promises more of a pay-off than the script can deliver. But his tortured European accent is only moderately amusing, his sendup of “Godfather”-inspired stereotypes is musty, and there’s just nothing inherently amusing about the character’s habit of shooting people who displease him.

Almost any episode of  “The Sopranos” demonstrates how to handle gallows humor in a gangland story. It’s tricky but it can be done (and on a weekly basis). “The Whole Ten Yards” succeeds only in showing how not to do it.