THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The bad buzz on Gigli has been going on for months. This first on-screen pairing of real-life lovebirds Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez has been plagued with tales of massive reshooting, horrific test screenings, fights between the director and the producer, and multiple missed release dates. In fact, the advance word on the movie is so bad that many have said Gigli is an all-time turkey on the order of Heaven’s Gate, Ishtar, and Battlefield: Earth. You have to feel sorry for writer/director Martin Brest; he had this same experience on his last picture, Meet Joe Black. The truth of the matter is that Gigli is not a good movie, but it also isn’t any worse than a lot of movies that Hollywood puts out in any given year. Anyone expecting to see a catastrophe of epic proportions will be sorely disappointed.

Affleck is badly miscast as Larry Gigli (rhymes with “really”), a low-level screw-up of a hood. He is assigned to kidnap the mentally unstable brother of a Federal Prosecutor who is making life difficult for an important mob boss. Gigli somehow manages to enter a psychiatric unit and convince the guy, Brian (Justin Bartha), to leave with him. He hides Brian in his apartment and thinks everything is fine. Then a woman named Ricki (Lopez) knocks on the door. She is an “enforcer” whose job is to make sure Gigli doesn’t screw up. He initially resents her presence, then realizes that he has the massive hots for her. Ricki drops a bombshell by announcing her homosexuality, but that doesn’t stop him from admiring her.

If the idea of watching Ben Affleck fall in love with an unattainable lesbian who eventually gives him a chance anyway sounds familiar, that’s because it’s almost identical to the plot of the great Kevin Smith movie Chasing Amy, which launched Affleck’s career. Of course, in that film he played a comic book artist, not a hood, and the relationship felt authentic, not forced.

My big problem with Gigli is that I could never figure out what story they were trying to tell me. Yes, it’s true that Gigli falls in love with Ricki, and that she eventually admits having some kind of quasi-romantic feelings for him as well. But what’s the payoff? The last scene doesn’t really make it clear how their relationship stands. And what is the point anyway? To show that Gigli has changed his outlook on life? If so, the film doesn’t get that across. The character is such a lousy hood that he doesn’t seem to need an ulterior motive for getting out of the business.

Maybe it’s not a love story after all. Maybe it was intended to be a crime drama. If that’s the case, it fails again. The whole subplot with the mentally ill brother goes nowhere. It’s not exciting, it’s not gripping, and it’s certainly not new.

It’s clear that - because Gigli was re-edited and re-shot following bad preview screenings – the focus of the movie was lost somewhere. Probably Martin Brest knew what he wanted to make, but the end result just seems hopelessly scattershot. Too many characters are introduced, only to be forgotten about. Christopher Walken has five good minutes as a cop who interrogates Gigli, but he never returns again. Al Pacino plays the mob boss in jeopardy; he gets maybe ten minutes that are more or less inconsequential to the story. We also meet – then forget about – Gigli’s overbearing mother (Lainie Kazan in the role that always seems to be played by Lainie Kazan) and Ricki’s lover. These characters might have been interesting and they might have added something to our understanding of what Gigli is supposed to be about. Instead, they serve as minor distractions to a meandering plot.

Ironically, the one character I wanted to see the least of gets way, way, way too much screen time. Justin Bartha gives an offensively stereotypical performance as the mentally ill Brian. The character is obsessed with “Baywatch” and wants to go to the beach so he can see an episode being taped. Brian’s psychiatric problems are supposed to be comic relief. We are intended to laugh at his Tourette’s-style outbursts of uncontrolled profanity (despite the fact that a very small percentage of people with Tourette’s actually do this). We are supposed to chuckle at his obsession with his penis. And – most sickeningly – we are supposed to feel heartwarmed when he ultimately winds up on a beach surrounded by many beautiful beach bunnies. (No spoiler there: anyone could see it coming.) This character should be on screen only fleetingly, but instead he sucks up far too much time, particularly at the end. If this is the story of Ricki and Gigli, then why does Brian monopolize the movie’s conclusion?

A final problem is that Gigli is too talky. People walk into a room, beat around the bush for ten minutes, then finally make their point. I’m being literal here. There are so many monologues in the screenplay that it becomes tiresome. Most of the characters begin by going into a long spiel about something totally unrelated to the action on screen. After talking and talking and talking, they finally get around to their point. Once or twice, this technique is effective (as in the scene where Ricki explains why women are physically more desirable than men). Mostly, it’s annoying. I wanted to hit a fast-forward button at times.

That’s a lot of complaints I have, huh? So what’s good about Gigli? Well, despite being miscast as hoods, Affleck and Lopez definitely do have chemistry together. They both take a playful approach to their scenes that is admittedly interesting to watch, knowing what we do about them. I also feel that there are some good elements here that suggest a better movie. Occasionally, a little idea would shine through that made me believe this might have been a more interesting project had the retooling not sucked all the juice out of it. Martin Brest has always been a thoughtful filmmaker, whether it be Scent of a Woman or the much-maligned Meet Joe Black (which I actually liked). My suspicion is that he had some good characters here and wanted to make a study of them. In a few moments, the characters do, in fact, capture our genuine interest. The movie’s problems may sink them, but if you look carefully, they’re there.

I don’t think Gigli is a successful movie, and I do not think it is a good movie – at least not as it stands. However, it is not the cinematic torture you may have been led to believe by the press, who seem intent on knocking Affleck and Lopez off their pedestals. As a public service, I conclude by offering a list of this year’s films that are absolutely worse than Gigli: Biker Boyz, Dreamcatcher, Basic, Wrong Turn, Alex & Emma, From Justin to Kelly, Bad Boys II.

( 1/2 out of four)

Gigli is rated R for sexual content, pervasive language and brief strong violence. The running time is 2 hours and 4 minutes.

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