Both halves of the original Bennifer—Ben Affleck + Jennifer Lopez—happened to be in the news this week, or at least in the most up-to-the-minute water-cooler conversations. The Town, the second Boston-set no-smiles crime opus co-written, directed by, and starring Affleck, premiered at the Venice Film Festival last weekend to mostly respectful notices, and it opens nationwide today. Meanwhile, word spread that Lopez will reportedly collect $12 million for sitting next to Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson at the American Idol judges' table next season, her alleged diva demands notwithstanding. What better time, then, to revisit Gigli, in which Affleck and Lopez star as polar-opposite lowlifes? The film is available to "watch instantly" on Netflix—and of course it remains a sad staple of discount DVD bins everywhere.
Gigli was released in theaters roughly seven years ago, to famously disastrous results. Critics were aghast; a handful of people paid to see it. The film went on to win six Razzies, which are a sort of opposite-day version of the Oscars. For the record, Gigli is still awful. But this misguided character study, about a hotheaded goon, Larry Gigli (Affleck, who actually seems like he's having fun here), and a soulful lesbian mobster named Ricki (Lopez), is uniquely hilarious. The two leads do an extended oil-and-water routine while holding captive Brian (Justin Bartha), a federal prosecutor's mentally challenged brother. But the career criminals grow fond of each other after being cooped up together for a long spell in Larry's Los Angeles bachelor pad. It's not that stars don't have chemistry, but that the screenplay, by Martin Brest, who also directed, describes their character arcs so unconvincingly. Ricki discovers alluring "feminine leanings" in Larry—based almost solely upon the way he extends his arm and flattens his hand to look at his fingernails (instead of curling his fingers inward).
Uncomfortable silences elongate scenes of really awful dialogue (the immortal "turkey time" seduction scene most notoriously). And other characters remark upon the difficulty of pronouncing the protagonist's last name—effectively offering a meta-commentary on how awful the film's title is. At what seem like tense moments, the score often lapses into soothing acoustic guitar and swelling strings. But there are also scenes in this film that transcend these so-bad-it's-good aspects. Christopher Walken stumbles in for a five-minute scene near the beginning of the film that will confuse, amuse, and delight anyone with but a passing appreciation for the actor's magnificent weirdness. He plays a coffee-cup-crumpling cop trying to smoke out whether Gigli knows anything about Brian's kidnapping. This whole avant-improv sequence crescendos in what appears to be a completely insincere appreciation of a piece of pie.
Nothing else in Gigli reaches the heights of this scene, but its conclusion is a groaner for the ages. Larry and Ricki finally set Brian free at a beachside film shoot where the young man gets to combine all the things we've seen him express interest in over the course of the film: bobbing his head to hip-hop, listening to Australian people talk about weather, and being on a set like Baywatch's, surrounded by beautiful women in bikinis. He distinguishes earlier between Baywatch the show and "the Baywatch," a place where what happens in the show actually occurs (Larry abducts Bartha's character with the simple promise of taking him there). Viewers may in turn shudder at the thought of the Gigli, a sparsely furnished, dust-covered unit in an anonymous apartment complex, a hellhole where the only reading material is literally a bottle of Tabasco sauce and a package of Charmin.
It's easier to laugh at these things now that we know Gigli wasn't a complete career killer for all involved—though Brest (Scent of a Woman) hasn't played the writer-director game since. Affleck, a likable actor who at 38 still can't sell gravitas, has reinvented himself as an auteur of tough, sprawling crime-novel adaptations, and he's got the opportunity this fall to learn a thing or two from legendary filmmaker Terrence Malick. None of Lopez's subsequent movies have really struck a chord with audiences, but she's able now to fall back on burnishing her credentials as a pop icon—something few other performers would be able to do.
In Tropic Thunder Robert Downey Jr. drops a rather impolite but apt term for the kind of cloying disability performance Bartha gives in Gigli, but in the last few years he has popped up in hits like National Treasure: Book of Secrets and The Hangover. And the man who shot Gigli, Robert Elswit, won an Oscar for There Will Be Blood, and he continues to be one of the most talented and in-demand cinematographers working. I'd imagine everybody involved in Gigli would rather forget it ever happened, but they'd probably also be relieved that this misbegotten sensitive-gangster picture already looks like something that's been pulled out of a time capsule.
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