Gigli

on August 01, 2003 by Kim Williamson
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Let's say you decided to make a movie much like "My Dinner With Andre," except putting a ravishing Latina in the Andre Gregory role and giving the Wallace Shawn part to a handsome hunk of oak, and making the characters small-time hoods, and adding Tarantino touches from "True Romance" and hints of Hallstrom from "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," yet making the key thematic element an investigation of a very kind of Sun Tze war between the sexes. What might you call it? In this case, you'd call it "Gigli" (pronounced...well, geez, say it however you like; one can expect this at least to be the most mispronounced movie of the year). You might also call it one of the least expected movies of the year, one that is likely to leave some theatre attendees nigh on enthralled--count this as from one of those--and have others escaping to the exits.

Multiplex-goers expecting this story of two small-time hoods--the seeker/loner Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck) and the centered-soul/lesbian whose nom de plume is Ricki (Jennifer Lopez), tossed together to caretake a mentally retarded hostage (Justin Bartha) for a mobster--to be a pop-culture romp of two of today's most public stars will feel as though they've sat themselves down in the wrong auditorium, the one usually reserved for men with beards and women with birkenstocks. What they will get is a Martin Brest film, with all the seriocomic depth that has variously marked his big-screen efforts, this one leaning lighter--more toward "Midnight Run" than "Meet Joe Black" in tone. Adding zounds of zing every other reel is an extended cameo by a longtime pro in which one can almost hear the helmer instructing the player, "Do the lines, but do them wacky." As a suspicious but friendly cop as intent on visiting a Denny's as locating the missing lad, Christopher Walken is so far to the fringe that not even "SNL" could mimic him; he does his long scene holding a coffee cup in his hand, but his character is so unhinged that it appears it would be news to him that he even has a hand, let alone a cup in it. As Larry's mother, Lainie Kazan suitably embarrasses her Lothario, Gigli having gone from detesting Ricki to wanting to devour her, during a visit in which son must administer a medical shot in his mom's naked-'n'-bulging butt; Mom sparks to the beautiful young woman as a good match for her boy, even when, and perhaps even more so when, she learns that Ricki prefers girls. Then there's Brest's lead in "Scent of a Woman," Al Pacino, who here, as the mobster for whom our duo is toiling, is so unhinged that it appears it would be news to him that he has a hand, let alone a gun in it--just as he seems in need of reminding that he has just blown the brains of an associate across his living room into a fishtank, to the appetitic appreciation of its denizens.

For those many celebrity-TV types who will people the film's prime opening-weekend audience--those whose first thought of Lopez regards the pink engagement ring given her by real-life love Affleck--her performance will be a revelation; she is so enthrallingly real that one almost doesn't notice that her character's savvy intelligence and emotional depth lessen the believability of her living life as a crook, and a minor one to boot, to zero. As for Affleck, always so winning in the Kevin Smith movies when he simply plays himself but so oaken otherwise, his charm makes one want to like him, but hewing him into a good actor would require not a Lee Strasberg but a Paul Bunyan. Given "Gigli's" kitchen-sink nature, perhaps it should be no surprise that Bartha, who succeeds in winning audience sympathy with a bright personalism that overcomes the staginess of his character's scripting, appears to have as his only previous credit that of office production aide on the crew of "Analyze This." Final analysis here: Kudos to Brest, and to Affleck and Lopez, who deliver--although that delivery is exactly the opposite of what their fans, and their disbelievers, expect to receive. Starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez and Justin Bartha. Directed and written by Martin Brest. Produced by Casey Silver and Martin Brest. A Columbia release. Romantic comedy. Rated R for sexual content, pervasive language and brief strong violence. Running time: 124 min.

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