review by Cynthia
Fuchs, 1 August 2003
all is said and done, the only thing you can really count on in this
world is that you never know." His hair slicked back, his face
set in an expression resembling impassivity, Larry Gigli (Ben
Affleck) tends to philosophize with his marks, explaining the
futility of resisting or the percentage in paying back whatever
money they owe his boss, the twitchy, glowery Louis (Lenny Venito).
Larry doesn't know much. A Los Angeles-based mob enforcer who may or
may not have aspirations, he usually appears clueless: when his
latest assignment only gives him half the money he owes, Larry
reports it to Louis as if it's no big deal. Though Louis puts
considerable energy into his rebuke, it's hard to say if Larry
understands what's at stake. His face remains a blank.
could be that Affleck is acting this vacuity, or maybe he, like
Larry, has little sense of what's at stake. In any event, much has
been already made of his poor performance in the title role in
Martin Brest's Gigli. The actor has surely added to this
"muchness," with earnest efforts to promote the film and
his relationship with his costar, the dazzling Jennifer Lopez. The
mid-July Dateline interview is especially egregious in this
regard -- "One of the things I was most struck by was how she
was able to do the sort of rock star thing and be an actress as
well" says Ben, "A lot of people have tried to do it and
it's a really hard thing to both at a high level" -- leading to
rumors of a Jen-Ben backlash, one explanation for the outcry against
the machine chugs along, framing Gigli as the occasion for
the couple's fateful meeting. Even in this capacity, though, the
film is wanting, offering few clues as to their depth and sincerity,
or their "chemistry." Perhaps what's revealed in Larry's
blank face and his search for a plot to occupy his floundering
energies, the movie is Affleck's version of The Bourne Identity,
a look at the fragmentation of time and identity in postmodern
culture, only this time in slow motion and without the violent
last is somewhat unusual, given that Larry and Ricki (Lopez) are
both professional killers hired by Louis. Their mission is to kidnap
a federal prosecutor's autistic brother, Brian (Justin Bartha, whose
performance careens between emulating Dustin Hoffman's Oscar turn
and spewing like he has Tourette's Syndrome), in order to make the
prosecutor back off the gangster Starkman (Al Pacino, whose
embarrassing ostentation stops just short of the hoo-ha that has
haunted him since he first ran it in Brest's lamentable Scent of
a Woman). The two hirelings begin at odds, develop a mutual
affection, and rethink their profession.
plot sounds formulaic, but the movie is actually less so. The
"buddies" don't kill anyone, don't screech around in
Larry's pale blue Impala, and don't showdown with the gangsters or
cops. Christopher Walken plays Jacobellis, the film's sole
detective, in one brief scene where he asks after the missing boy's
whereabouts: "I'm searching for news of the underground,"
he murmurs. Just what's up is unclear: is Jacobellis a friend of
Larry's? Is Larry his informant? What? When no info appears
forthcoming, the detective leaves, never to be heard from again.
ostensible function is to tell Ricki and Larry of Brian's import,
that is, his brother's identity. This even as they're becoming
unprofessionally fond of the boy. Facing an imminent crisis, they
don't leave town, return Brian or figure a way to elude Louis.
Instead, they go for tacos. And at the food stand, Larry's love for
his associate is cemented: when local teens with a boom box incur
his wrath, the Sun Tsu-quoting Ricki reveals her own intimidation
skills, namely, bullshitting about sinister-sounding martial arts
techniques. It's an adroit mini-performance (as Lopez delivers
throughout -- refreshingly low-key, compared to the many men who
overact in every scene), convincing the kids to stay in school and
Larry to rethink his macho posturing.
he sets about trying to impress her in turn, even bringing her round
(sort of accidentally) to meet his mom (Lainie Kazan), to whom he
must give insulin injections; this allows a gratuitous and unfunny
shot of her butt in a thong, the sort of shot that makes you wonder
what anyone working on this film was imagining as "tone."
Then again, nothing in Gigli is sustained, from pace to plot
points to character functions. It appears to have been chopped up
and put back together again more than once.
for one example, the wholly bizarre scene where Larry, instructed to
send Brian's thumb to his brother, comes up with an alternative
plan. He has the kid stand nearby in the morgue while he saws a
thumb off a corpse with a plastic knife; the sound inspires hiphop
fan Brian to recite "Baby Got Back" -- this ill-advised
collision of the corpse-humor from Bad Boys II and the
completely exhausted white-folks-rapping joke is a serious low
point. Brian's utter reverence for Larry is another of the film's
puzzles, as is Ricki's growing trust in his judgment, which is
all its obvious inconsistency and clumsiness, Gigli has one
peculiar point in its favor, which soon becomes troubling as well.
(Most often, the film can't seem to get out of its own way.) It has
to do with Larry's appealing softness (despite his adamant
palookaville-ish denial of same) and his moral education,
specifically in the form of Ricki as lesbian. She is, of course,
gorgeous, confident, and quick on her feet, as well as mixed up with
the desperately infatuated Robin (Missy Crider). This relationship
leads to the film's most flagrantly misconceived scene, a frankly
brutal suicide attempt. Even worse than this abrupt swing in mood
(by this point in the film, you'd think you'd be used to them) is
what follows: at what is evidently Robin's most anguished moment (or
at least she looks anguished, viewed through a window, at a
distance, from Larry's locked-out and overtly yearning perspective),
Ricki puts an end to that plotline.
Ricki is a lesbian assassin with a good heart is less complex than
vaguely ludicrous, but it's not calamitous until she goes all Chasing
Amy, that is, falling, however tentatively, for Larry. The
motivation for this shift is missing, unless you count that he
alternates between acting like a macho puff and a hurt puppy: which
one of these is the "real" Larry, who so attracts the
confident, canny Ricki is unclear. When he starts explaining his
"sadness" to her -- he's sad because he's been sleeping
next to a beautiful woman who's also "untouchable" and
"unhaveable," a "dykeasaurus rex" -- she looks
at him with love. Um, why?
the many anomalous scenes cobbled together for Gigli, the one
garnering the most attention concerns Ricki's instruction to Larry
on the overvaluation of the penis and the meaning and worth of the
perfect lips between her legs, that is, "what I am proud to
call my pussy." That she delivers said instruction while
stretching on her yoga mat enhances his appreciation, and his vacant
expression here gets something like its own workout. Camera angles
set him up, of course, to reflect viewers' similar enthrallment.
It's no longer a masculine presumption, but a giving over to her,
agreeing to be her "bitch," accepting his own
vulnerability and, after a fashion, generosity. Perhaps Larry is
right, you never know.
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult