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's 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 voice imitation.

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 shout-outs 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. Then you notice that Bartha doesn't look to have studied any actual handicapped people in creating his character -- just Rain Man, and possibly Malibu's Most Wanted.

From there, however, the plot rests upon a number of suppositions only slightly less convincing than the one writer-director Martin Brest (helmsman of the similarly endless-seeming star vanity projects Scent of a Woman and Meet Joe Black) apparently made about Affleck 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 stripper-esque pseudonym of "Ricki" (Jennifer Lopez) to do seminude yoga. Oh yeah, that'll keep Mr. Gigli focused on the job at hand. It helps if this woman is neither tough nor intimidating, but rather issues empty threats from time to time. It goes without saying that it's hard to be scared of mobsters stupid enough to hire "J. Lo" and "B. Af" when, presumably, there must be at least one thug for hire in all of Los Angeles who looks like, say, Danny Trejo.

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 Ben 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 describing 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, after what feels like an endless courtship. How exactly are we supposed to believe these two are hardened criminals, when they're making cutesy eyes at one another from the get-go? She threatens to kick his ass early in the game, but never gives any legitimate indication that she's capable of such a feat.

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 protégée 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 (hell, I'll even throw Anaconda in there). 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 somehow have managed to exhaust their novelty with the media right about now, as the film's finally being released.

Though the two leads, laughably referred to as "icons" in the press notes, became a couple during the course of filming, the material here is just too easy to make fun of in the context of their subsequent relationship. So let's go for it: One of Jennifer's first lines to Ben is "I'll be in and out before you know it, I promise, I'll just leave a faint scent." Think that was also uttered the night of their first date? Later, she opines, "I done some bad things, but I didn't sign onto this to be a real street thug." Ask ex-beau P. Diddy where she may have found her motivation on that one.

The best line in the movie, hands down, goes to Walken, who stares Affleck down and says, "You don't know nuthin' -- I can tell just by lookin' atcha." That Chris always was an insightful fellow.

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 green light a film about a mobster babysitting a retarded youngster who helps him to "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 onscreen 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.