Gigli, ryhmes with really, as in really bad


Published: Friday, August 1, 2003 at 8:58 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 1, 2003 at 8:58 a.m.

In ``Gigli,'' Ben Affleck is Larry Gigli, a mob enforcer with a vintage Chevy Impala convertible, a closet full of vintage-style rayon shirts and a threadbare, thirdhand wiseguy accent. (Though he is a Los Angeles native, Larry's accent sounds as if he had been raised in the part of New Jersey that's just outside Boston.) Before we go any further, however, we should clear up the question of how to pronounce Larry's surname, and the title of the picture, in which Affleck is joined by his real-life fiancee, Jennifer Lopez. In places - especially the long denouement, set on a beach full of bikini-wearing extras - it is certainly jiggly. And audiences, at inappropriate moments, will find themselves helplessly giggly. But Larry's name is pronounced JEE-lee, or as he likes to say, ``rhymes with really.''

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Sony Pictures

As in really, really silly, which is the kindest way to describe this hopelessly misconceived exercise in celebrity self-worship. ``Gigli,'' directed by the historically competent Martin Brest (``Beverly Hills Cop,'' ``Midnight Run,'' ``Scent of a Woman''), may be a patchwork of ideas that have been put to better use in other movies - a glob of ``Rain Man,'' a dash of ``Prizzi's Honor,'' a schmear of ``Chasing Amy'' - but it has a special badness all its own. Shot in nondescript Los Angeles locations, including a generic apartment where much of the action takes place, the movie has a flat, featureless look more suitable to one of the low-budget, semiprofessional productions that Affleck helps sponsor through the ``Project Greenlight'' contest.

This one, however, cost quite a bit more: Affleck and Lopez's combined fees reportedly ran close to $25 million, and they earn their money by hogging as much screen time as possible and uttering some of the lamest dialogue ever committed to film. Lopez's character, an underworld ``contractor'' who calls herself Ricki, is dispatched to Larry's place because his boss, a ``Sopranos'' understudy named Louis (Lenny Venito), thinks he needs extra help watching over Brian (Justin Bartha), a mentally challenged young man Larry has kidnapped on Louis' orders.

The nature of Brian's disability is unclear - he refers to himself as ``brain damaged,'' and Larry addresses him much less kindly - but he exhibits symptoms consistent with lovable-movie-disabled syndrome. He flaps and screeches, annoyingly at first, but soon settles into stammering cuteness as he chants along with his favorite hip-hop numbers and says funny things about sex.

As do Affleck and Lopez, though they are most likely aiming for suave, risque wit, rather than the horselaughs their repartee provokes. That Ricki is a lesbian temporarily stymies Larry's fantasy of sexual conquest and leads to an extraordinary debate about the relative merits of the penis and the vagina. Lopez has the last word - not one that I can quote here - and it comes at the end of a speech about sea slugs, Mount Everest and the bottom of the ocean that she delivers while executing a series of yoga poses. This causes poor Larry to fall hopelessly in love with her and sets up their eventual bedroom consummation, a tasteful woman-on-top montage initiated by Lopez declaring that ``it's turkey time.''

Indeed it is.

Buried in the slow, talky, inanities that the two stars exchange are some potentially interesting ideas about female sexual self-assertion and male surrender, but neither the actors nor the filmmakers have any notion about how to explore them. Lopez's brisk self-confidence has begun to seem like a limitation, and the way she modulates between steeliness and softness feels mechanical, a matter of arranging her face rather than of expressing any plausible motive or emotion. Affleck is a handsome face and a bad accent in search of a character; however you pronounce it, Gigli is not really anybody at all.

For relief, there are brief appearances by a few designated over-actors. In addition to Al Pacino (as Starkman, a big-time mobster from New York), Christopher Walken shows up as the only police officer who seems at all concerned that the younger brother of a federal prosecutor has been kidnapped. Lainie Kazan has a scene as Gigli's mother, who immediately senses that Ricki is a person of substance. One assumes they were all well compensated for their trouble.

In one scene Ricki takes on a group of ill-mannered ruffians who are making noise at a taco stand. Larry wants to beat them up, but she takes a more refined approach, sauntering over in her short denim skirt and lecturing them on their ``people skills.'' She also threatens the apparent ringleader with a baroque martial-arts torture, which involves gouging out the eyes and also removing that part of the brain that stores visual information, so that the victim will not only be blind, but will also lose all memory of what he has seen. Having seen ``Gigli,'' I must say that the idea has a certain appeal.

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