- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2003

Just what in God’s green Hollywood is “Gigli”? If you can tell me, you’re a keener interpreter of our culture than I.

It’s a lighthearted comic romp, except for the gun-blasted human brains floating in a fish tank. It’s a mob farce, except that Mafiosi figure in the plot only marginally. It’s a romantic comedy, except that its lead actress insists she’s a lesbian half the time.

Oh, and “Gigli” rhymes with “really,” in case you are the kind of ruffian who pronounces the silent “g” in Italian diction, but no matter: The movie harps on that fact for about two minutes — ha-ha — then quickly forgets about it.

I’m convinced that, say, five or 10 years from now, we’re going to point to “Gigli” as some kind of zeitgeist weather vane, a canary in the sexual coal mine, a … oh, who am I kidding? “Gigli” is a terrible, and terribly confused, movie.

Here we have Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, the pride of the tabloid paparazzi, whose relationship is one of the last remaining pop-cultural bulwarks standing between traditional, red-blooded heterosexual dysfunction and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” bantering with each other about latent male effeminacy and the downside of Sapphism.

Forgetting for a minute the broader implications of all this, let’s pause for a moment to get a few things, er, straight. Hearing Miss Lopez, as some kind of purported lesbian assassin, wax like Camille Paglia about Sun-Tzu and the mytho-poetical allure of the vagina while she does yoga is beyond ridiculous.

Isn’t this the same girl who just got finished telling us she’s still “Jenny from the block,” just your average diva from the Bronx?

And Mr. Affleck — sure, he does the ethnic machismo thing as well as Henry Winkler ever could (an ad-libbed scene of him flexing in front of a mirror is one of the few genuinely funny moments of the movie), but do we have to weigh down even the Fonzie pose with bisexual baggage?

The man responsible for “Gigli” is writer-director Martin Brest, who works about once every five years. The long waits have usually paid off: Between 1984 and 1992, he directed “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Midnight Run” and “Scent of a Woman,” all great efforts.

His last, however, was the interminably bad “Meet Joe Black,” and “Gigli,” like its immediate predecessor, is way too long. It’s more than two hours, and at least half of it could have been left on the cutting-room floor.

The other half should have been erased on the set.

Not that it matters or anything, but Ben and Jen play Larry Gigli and Ricki, a pair of mob contractors involved in a stupidly conceived extortion scheme to kidnap the mentally retarded brother (Justin Bartha) of a federal prosecutor who has his hooks into a Mafia boss played briefly by Al Pacino, who yells and barks in his cameo scene. Imagine that.

Mr. Bartha’s Brian starts off by being afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome, but his “rainman” shtick gradually wears off as the plot gags call for him to be more and more articulate.

As the film drags on — and boy does it ever drag — Larry and Ricki eventually find themselves in the horizontal position in one of the least erotic love scenes ever captured on celluloid.

Mr. Brest must have encouraged Miss Lopez to assume the take-charge-woman role, but it works about as well as two awkward preteens playing spin the bottle.

When “Gigli” does pay attention to its own incongruous plot devices, the results are disastrous. An illustration: Larry and Ricki’s immediate boss (Lenny Venito) orders them to send one of Brian’s thumbs to the prosecutor, a real get-tough measure designed to dissuade him from following through on his case.

The problem is that they have taken a liking to the harmless kid, who often breaks into Sir Mix-a-Lot raps and would like nothing more than to be on the real-life set of “Baywatch.”

You can practically smell the stench of midnight oil on Mr. Brest’s screenplay. How do I get them a thumb? … Where can you procure a thumb without hurting anybody? … I got it. A morgue.

Why would Larry and Ricki go to a morgue? Because a jealous lover of Ricki’s will come onto the scene and — what? Slit her wrists. Perfect. That gives our heroes a pretext to be in a hospital.

To “Gigli’s” credit, it has none of the faults of this summer’s over-the-top extravaganzas. To “Gigli’s” debit, it’s ruthlessly dull. Every sequence is twice as long as it should be, the dialogue is pretentious when it’s not conventionally boring, and the jokes fall like lead turds.

Who green-lighted this thing? Why was it made? To whom is it targeted? What the heck is it supposed to be about?

Miss Lopez reportedly is in tears over the bad press “Gigli” has gotten. Sorry to add one more to the pan pile, but the best thing I can say about this one is that maybe it’s slightly ahead of its time.

That doesn’t mean it’s any good.

TITLE: “Gigli”

RATING: R (Pervasive profanity; sexual situations; occasional graphic violence)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Martin Brest. Produced by Mr. Brest and Casey Silver. Cinematography by Robert Elswit. Original music by John Powell.

RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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