'Gigli': This Star Vehicle Is A Lemon

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 1, 2003

Ben and Jen? After seeing "Gigli," I think Ben and Jerry could make a better movie. "Gigli" is certainly bereft of low pleasures: It's both giggle-free and jiggle-free. Worse, it's enervated, torpid, slack, dreary and, oh yes, nasty, brutish and long.

Summed up in a bumper sticker it would come out as: Have you hugged your kidnapper today?

Ach. Oy. Woe and poo, bleccch and uck! ZZZZZ-zzz. Ben (Affleck) plays Larry and Jen (Lopez) plays Ricki. Both are, um, "contractors," meaning, facilitators for certain mob transactions against private citizens that call for the use of force. Before the world went all icky touchy-feely on us, they used to be called "enforcers" and before that "thugs."

Anyhow, they are ordered (by separate clients) to kidnap the brain-damaged brother of a federal prosecutor who is putting the heat on a New York mobster. They are to hold that sad, wounded boy, whose painful autism is played for chuckles and yuks, as a means of leveraging the prosecutor to back off, though that whole part of the story is left undramatized, except as justification for a late, showy cameo by Al Pacino.

But most of the movie is Ben and Jen spatting, attitudinizing and improvising in a poorly decorated L.A. apartment to the pretend delight of the poor boy, impersonated by Justin Bartha, who has spent entirely too much time watching Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man."

Regardless of the off-screen reality, Ben and Jen have very little electricity on-screen. He's locked into a shameless, pasty John Travolta imitation while she's -- well, she's -- hmmm. I don't know what she's doing. Whatever it is, it's not terribly amusing. But that's okay, because she's very poorly dressed and barely awake. This is her snooziest performance ever, if "performance" is quite the word. She can barely be stirred to wipe the sleep out of her eyes.

In fact, the whole grotesque thing feels like a movie originally written for Sean Penn and Madonna in their brief fling at celebrity dating. It's about on a level with "Shanghai Surprise," the only celluloid residue of the Penn-Madonna linkage. But I still think Penn and Madonna would have had the higher wisdom to nix this project.

The criminal mind behind this is Martin Brest, who hit the bigs many years back with "Beverly Hills Cop" and has been desperately trying to make it back to the smalls ever since. He may have finally made it. It's even worse than his last film, "Meet Joe Black," which many considered his worst.

The movie has no structure at all, no sense of urgency, no compelling reason to exist or be endured whatsoever. The scenes play on and on and on, and the story wends down byways of no consequence whatsoever. In one scene, Lopez's former lover shows up and commits a gaudy mock-suicide with razor blades over the loss of her serene majesty. The lover, I should add, is female, for the Lopez character is a self-announced lesbian.

So, in the middle of the strangely sluggish film, we have one scene of screaming scenery- eating, culminating in a bloody act of self-mutilation. This is followed by an emergency room scene, and then by . . . nothing. It connects with nothing. It means nothing. It was simply an audition by the obscure actress Missy Crider.

There's another disconnected tidbit in which Lopez's character launches into one of those speeches we doubt ever got speechified: It's a poetic invocation of oral sex, and what is remarkable about it is that, using incredible discipline, Brest is able to force himself to build a scene around a part of her body other than her butt! Now that's a pro!

Equally feckless are cameos by two great actors, Christopher Walken and the aforementioned Pacino. Each is gaudy and explosive and so meaningless as to be instantly forgettable. In fact, I had so totally repressed the appearance of Walken that it slipped into my unconsciousness and only a friend's mention recalled it.

But what is most appalling about this whole appalling thing is its complete disinterest in the victim of the plot it chronicles so listlessly. It never acknowledges, really, that for an autistic child, such an event would be shattering. Instead, he's played for laughs, as a kind of punching bag for Affleck and as an object of reduction and condescension for Lopez. This tough treatment improves him and, of course, improves them, too. He's the therapist, not them. It's really all about them, you see.

But these days . . . what isn't?

Gigli (124 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for extreme language -- every other &%$#@@#@! word! -- and some skin-showing intimacy between its two stars.

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