Film Reviews

Bad Asses

For a few minutes, at least, things don't look so bad. Watching Ben Affleck swagger around as the thuggish title character of Gigli ("Rhymes with really," he tells us, twice) is amusing for a bit. Affleck is eminently qualified for the role, actually -- that of a low-level hood pretending to be more important and talented than he truly is. The laughs may not be of the intentional kind, but we'll take what we can get, especially since Affleck seems to be doing his damnedest to impersonate the similarly square-jawed Edward Burns, right down to the voice.

Gigli gets assigned to kidnap a "psychologically challenged" youngster, brother of a prosecutor who's making trouble for a New York mobster. Said youngster, Brian (newcomer Justin Bartha), has an affliction that seems to be a vague amalgamation of autism, Tourette's, and white-rapper syndrome (yes, he periodically gives lisping shoutouts to his homies and recites '90s rap hits verbatim), all of which conveniently go into remission whenever the plot calls for it. Anyway, his initial reaction to Affleck is to repeatedly call him stupid and swear at him, which at least gives us one character to identify with for a while.

From there, however, the plot rests upon a number of suppositions only slightly less convincing than the one writer-director Martin Brest (Scent of a Woman) apparently made about Affleck's being a skilled thespian. To wit: One must suppose that the best way to get a hired goon to do his job correctly is to send over a scantily clad hot lesbian bearing the stripperesque pseudonym of "Ricki" (Jennifer Lopez) to do seminude yoga. Oh yeah, that'll keep Mr. Gigli focused on the job at hand.

It's also a given here, much as it is in Danish cinema these days, that the mentally retarded are all noble innocent beings who can melt the hearts of lowlifes with their mere presence. Additionally, sexual orientation is a lifestyle choice that can be transcended by Affleck simply because he has a hidden feminine side (indeed, that's a plot point). If converting lesbians isn't sufficiently impressive, how about his ability to cure serious mental problems simply by offering a pointer or two on how to pick up chicks?

Before Gigli's two hours are up, you will also hear Lopez deliver a lengthy monologue about eye-gouging, see Lainie Kazan's ass cheeks and cleavage (she's the mom from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and plays Gigli's bisexual mom here), hear Lopez describe Affleck's penis, hear Bartha talk about ejaculation, see Affleck try to cut off a human thumb with a plastic knife, and watch fish devour bloody bits of brain. Affleck and Lopez also participate in the worst sex scene ever, but you knew that was inevitable.

While you're trying to tie yourself a noose out of Red Vines (or Twizzlers, depending on the theater), you may be momentarily distracted by Christopher Walken and Al Pacino getting one scene apiece in an attempt to win back your attention. It's a stalling tactic that works only until you realize that once each scene is over, the movie's going to go back to the same old way it was before.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Remember back when Ben and Jen seemed like such hot upcoming prospects? Ben was the one Kevin Smith protégé who looked like he could go all the way to the top with his blend of sensitivity and humor, and Jennifer was the perfect mix of beauty and toughness in Out of Sight and Money Train. So what happened? Oh, right: Ben got a thoroughly undeserved screenwriting Oscar, and Jennifer decided that playing Selena wasn't enough of a diva fix. Both signed on for Gigli, became Hollywood's power couple, and have somehow managed to exhaust their novelty with the media right about now, as the film's finally being released.

So how bad, in the final analysis, is Gigli? The best that can be said about it here is that it doesn't beat out The Ladies Man as the most abrasively awful film of the past five years, nor does it top Battlefield Earth for sheer misguided lunacy, though whoever chose to greenlight a film about a mobster babysitting a retarded youngster who helps him "convert" a lesbian really should be fired. Affleck's acting is often cardboard enough to be amusing, but Lopez delivers what may be the worst performance of her entire career (including, yes, The Wedding Planner), looking in every scene like she's just waiting for the last take so she can go home. Twice she delivers speeches supposed to make her look tough as nails; both times, we have to wonder how the other characters on-screen could possibly be convinced. A recent episode of South Park suggested that a fourth-grader's hand puppet could turn in a better performance than Ms. Lopez, and in the case of Gigli, it's hard to argue.

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Luke Y. Thompson
Contact: Luke Y. Thompson