Opinions are like assholes and everyone's got them, but to call "Gigli"
one of the worst motion pictures ever madeas some critics and press
have suggestedis frankly absurd. Hasn't anybody seen "Zombie Vs. Mardi
Gras?" Perhaps a vendetta has begun against the famed romance of Ben
Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, or maybe the movie's many detractors simply
walked in with a negative attitude based on what they had heard, and
nothing they saw could change their minds. Whatever the case, the
unfortunately-titled "Gigli," directed by Martin Brest (1998's "Meet
Joe Black"), is an entertaining romantic comedy with a fresh, wicked
edge. At its center is a relationship between two charactersand two
actorsthat ignites more steamy chemistry than any movie romance this year.
Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck) is a trash-talking Los Angeles mob enforcer
who is assigned to kidnap Brian (Justin Bartha), the mentally challenged
brother of a federal prosecutor. Ricki (Jennifer Lopez) is also an
enforcer, sent to keep a close eye on Larry to make sure he follows
through with the plans who has been given. As Larry and Ricki hang
out together, waiting for further instructions and taking a liking
to Brian, Larry falls head over heels for the sexy and sweet Ricki.
In return, Ricki sort of likes Larry, too. The only problem is she is a lesbian.
That last bit of plot information has been sneakily hidden in the
trailers and ads for "Gigli," which make it appear to be a happy-go-lucky
conventional romance. With a story that includes gunshots to the head,
cut-off fingers, slit wrists, and splattered human brain chunks in
a fish tank, it most definitely isn't paint-by-numbers. In spite of
these more violent moments, however, the film progresses to become
a sweetly winning love story, darker than most comedies of its ilk
but with its heart in the right place. Think of it as Quentin Tarantino-lite,
complete with some wonderfully snappy dialogue exchanges and occasional
blood, but with a more romantic undercurrent than Tarantino is used to.
Lest it appear that "Gigli" is a faultless film, there are a few missteps.
Until Ricki shows up about fifteen minutes in, the movie is ploddingly
edited and rather inept in its storytelling. One or two lines of dialogue
in the first act are overwrought. And some of the musical score cues
are intrusive and sloppy. The catch is, once Ricki enters the frame,
"Gigli" brightens up considerably and moves at a faster pace. Its
two or three misguided lines are a painless price to pay for the more
often prevalent sparkling dialogue exchanges, courtesy of writer-director
Martin Brest. And for every less-than-stellar piece of score there
are even more utterly magical music cues (by composer John Powell),
some of the most effective in months.
The plot is admittedly pretty unbelievable, if only because Larry
and Ricki do not plausibly have it in them to work for the mob. Pairing
Ben Affleck (2003's "Daredevil") and Jennifer Lopez (2002's "Maid
in Manhattan") together is the film's most vital agenda, and it succeeds
effortlessly on this count. Affleck, with thick Brooklyn accent in
tow, wisely does not endear his Larry Gigli (pronounced "Jeally")
to the audience from the first frame, but makes him someone the viewer
is unsure how to feel about until his falsely tough outer layer is
stripped back to reveal a gentle soul. As Ricki, Lopez delivers another
ultra-sexy and bewitching performance, further proving that she has
more pure talent than her moniker, "J. Lo," suggests. Together, one
can almost witness on film Affleck and Lopez falling in love in real
life, making their romance all the more involving and worth rooting
for. Kudos must also go with how Ricki's lesbianism is realistically
and unpredictably treated within a heterosexual romance.
The supporting cast is mostly filled with extended one-scene cameos,
as the main attraction is, and never strays from, Affleck and Lopez.
The biggest support comes from newcomer Justin Bartha, doing a supremely
fine job as the presumably autistic Brian. Lainie Kazan (2000's "The
Crew") has a charming scene as Larry's mom, who shares a moment of
female bonding with Ricki. And Al Pacino (2002's "Insomnia") is chilling
as Pacino can only be in villain roles as ruthless mob boss Starkman.
Why "Gigli" is getting so widely lambasted from other critics, I do
not know. As a romance, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez are on fire.
Their characters have more character shades and depth than is the
norm for the genre, and they delight in the showy and witty dialogue
they get to speak. The ending is idealistic and not completely believable,
but it also works, in spite of the reasons it shouldn't, because it
earns it. "Gigli" may not be a life-changing motion picture, but it
is always likable. Most of all, and most importantly, it has a good heart.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman