Gigli (2003) / Drama-Crime
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content, pervasive language, and violence
Running Time: 124 min.
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Bartha, Lenny Venito, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Missy Crider
Director: Martin Brest
Screenplay: Martin Brest
It seems like just yesterday that Martin Brest was an acclaimed director, helming such lucrative and esteemed projects like Going in Style, Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run, and Scent of a Woman. 1998 saw Brest take a bit of a dip creatively with Meet Joe Black, but hopes were high in a comeback, especially when he has had five years to develop and hone his latest project. Curiously, if there's one thing that Brest's latest is not, it's honed. It's a rather talky affair, and taking place mostly in Gigli's apartment, it has a "staged play" feel to it. It's a real shame that it wasn't a play, as it probably would have been shut down after one performance, as such bad dialogue and lackadaisical plotting would easily have killed any chances for this being a major motion picture release.
To top it off, Ben Affleck is woefully miscast as the titular character, Gigli, a two-bit hitman hired to kidnap a mentally disabled relative of a federal prosecutor, mostly to use as intimidation in the case against a powerful crime boss. Although Gigli likes to think of himself as a professional, his higher-up doesn't quite have the same faith, and a second person is assigned to assist in the caretaking of the young man, Brian. That second person is "Ricki," an alias to keep her from getting too involved, and she plans on leaving the scene once the gig is done. Sexual tensions flare up on the side of Gigli, but mostly to frustration, as Ricki is a lesbian, and a very opinionated one at that, taking great joy in emasculating him at every opportunity.
Even though the story plays out in an aimless fashion, it has its moments. There is an intelligence behind Brest's words, with smart ideas and dialogue that bubble up to the surface from time to time. Yet, on the flip side of that coin are the large helpings of bad taste that are dolloped on much of the rest of the film, almost as if Brest thought audiences want dumb humor and titillating dirty talk over insightful characterizations. Paradoxically, the level of good writing actually makes the film worse, sticking out so much more when a character is going through a pithy monologue, only to say something completely crude or out of intellectual context, and what should have been an erudite moment freefalls into the realm of embarrassingly awful.
There's also a strange component to the production, with a plot that is set up but largely ignored for long periods of time. You'll find yourself wondering what the hell the movie is supposed to be about, as the film veers frequently into wholly tangential rhetoric between the two leads, and momentum is never really achieved. Such arguments as the "penis vs. vagina" are interesting to listen to, although the way in which the arguments are delivered seems to draw more snickers than nods of agreement. The character of the mentally challenged Brian is stereotypically awful, and large sections of the film are spent almost making fun of people with these sorts of disabilities. Did we need to stoop to hearing a retarded boy talk about his "penis sneezing" or rapping to the lyrics of Sir Mix-a-Lot's comically racy "Baby Got Back" in order to try to gain some meager chuckles?
Gigli is mostly guffawed at by critics and audiences alike, not just because it is a bad film, but because it tries so hard to be good and falls flat on its face time and time again. It is also seen as a vanity piece by two people who have hogged lots of the media spotlight in recent times, putting this film in the same class as Travolta and Newton-John in Two of a Kind and Madonna starring with Sean Penn in Shanghai Surprise.
To sum it all up, this is not one of the worst films ever made, as the initial buzz would like you to believe, but it does have some of the worst moments. When you have a film with such terrific actors like Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, and such easy-to-watch personalities like Affleck and J.Lo, the horrendously misguided dialogue and lack of vision to the storytelling only become more pronounced, akin to performing the Macarena in the middle of a ballet, or having the diva of an opera perform a beatbox in the middle of her aria. Hopefully Brest learns a valuable lesson from this fiasco, with the main gist being that you can't elevate a film into something of substance by constantly digging down into subterranean depths for inspiration.
© 2003 Vince Leo