If you’ve heard one Gigli joke, you’ve heard them all, so I approached the most mocked movie of the year ignoring the months of anti-hype, scattered behind-the-scenes turmoil, and the media blitzkrieg that set out to destroy the creation known as “Bennifer,” the conjoining of stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Gigli is not the Thanksgiving turkey that the minions of star-haters would have you believe. Rather, it is a highly curious film that is not so much poor as it is the victim of its own unfortunate media backlash.
Some infamous duds are incapable of appearing otherwise. Showgirls and Glitter are two examples in which even glancing at the screen for a second would result in shudders. But Gigli fails in the same vein as another star-studded flop, The Bonfire of the Vanities, so that it wears the guise of a perfectly normal film while there is still much wrong with it.
The story begins with lowly thug-for-hire Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck—who reminds us more than once that his name rhymes with “really”) assigned to kidnap the mentally challenged younger brother (Justin Bartha) of a powerful federal prosecutor to prevent the incarceration of his mob boss (played by Al Pacino, once again in “yell-mode”). But one of Larry’s superiors (Lenny Venito, a Joe Pesci-type) does not feel that his underling is up to performing the task on his own. So he assigns fellow gangster Ricki (Jennifer Lopez) to assist Larry in watching after the kidnapped boy.
From here, the film almost literally goes nowhere. Gigli seemed headed to being an old-fashioned road movie (like one of the most popular in the subgenre, Midnight Run, also directed by Martin Brest), but the story here remains firmly rooted in the title character’s apartment or car for most of the film’s running time. This would be fine if the drama was richer, but it isn’t. The story is treated too lightly to remain so grounded. A story that sets three diverse characters on a journey of discovery (though the discovery is mostly on the part of the title character himself) should be a physical journey as well as psychological.
And for a movie about two supposedly hardcore gangsters, Gigli is also missing action and excitement to juice up a potentially successful crime comedy. It even misses the opportunity for a little of both by ignoring a character named Jacobellis (Christopher Walken), a detective investigating the kidnapping. In only one scene, Detective Jacobellis questions Larry at his home. The eccentric character (or maybe it’s just Walken), and any kind of police involvement in the story is never brought up again. Why not have had Walken's character more involved in the story, snooping around and becoming more connected to the finale as the story progressed? Instead, we get the first of two pointless cameos by famous over-actors famously overacting.
If Brest ever had any strength that has seen him through even the roughest of spots (namely his three-hour Meet Joe Black) it has been the dialogue he writes and how much charm it brings to the stars that speak it. The same man whose words propelled Eddie Murphy to superstardom and Al Pacino to his only Oscar win is able to bring his charm to the performances from Affleck and Lopez. Early on, we see that both Affleck and Lopez are giving the Noo Yawk accent a go-round, and failing miserably because Affleck’s irritating smirk only makes his Fonzie-like persona all the more laughable. Lopez sounds less ridiculous (she is from New York, after all) but still sounds as if she is doing an impression of Affleck doing an impression of the way a gangster supposedly acts.
But soon the accents started to disappear, the dialogue became more personal and witty, and the duo’s real-life chemistry became a cinematic reality. The popular pair shares many good scenes together, mostly of them battling it out for sexual supremacy. Yet all the while their relationship with the young boy becomes touchingly parental. By the end of the journey, these are likable characters.
The undoing of Gigli was not that it is a joke, but that it was labeled a joke by news reports, magazines, and celebrity onlookers before it could even get to the punch line. So if you are going to see it, approach it as I did. That way, if you make another joke, at least you know your opinion will be honest.
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