Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck) is a low-rent mob enforcer working for a crime boss who is uncertain of Gigli's worth. To make up for past sins, Gigli (rhymes with "really") is ordered to kidnap a mentally handicapped man, Brian (Justin Bartha), and hold him until further orders. Gigli is tough, assured, but dim, and to help him out, another enforcer, Ricki (Jennifer Lopez), is sent to make sure Gigli doesn't screw anything up. Ricki is a beautiful, centered lesbian whom Gigli is immediately attracted to. As the three try to form some kind of relationship during their time together, it becomes clear that emotional bonds are forming, leading Gigli to make some tough decisions when it comes time to answer for the kidnapping.
Under a different set of circumstances, "Gigli" (IMDb listing) might have had a winning shot at success. It's a multi-layered story that isn't easily classified as "something" to those that desire that type of comfort. You could think of the film as "Ford Fairlane" meets "Rain Man" meets "Chasing Amy," but that would only scratch the surface. The film comes from the mind of Martin Brest, the notorious dawdler director, who, in the last 20 years of filmmaking, has completed five movies (in comparison, Steven Spielberg has banged out 14). Brest's pictures all share the same myriad of ideas and tonal changes in their direction and writing, resulting in great films like "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Midnight Run," and endurance tests like the silly "Scent of a Woman" and the overcooked "Meet Joe Black." It isn't a question of whether Brest can manage his own talents, because even when he makes a turkey, it shows an incredible amount of craft and passion. But when that passion is directed in the wrong way, it creates a film that is a chore to sit through.
"Gigli" isn't a disaster in quite the way "Meet Joe Black" turned out to be, but it is a true Martin Brest picture through and through. While shorter than some of his other films (this one clocks in at two hours, while "Woman" and "Black" tipped the scales at nearly three), "Gigli" manages to run through lesbian seductions, suicide attempts, tough guy scenes, mob drama, a rapping, mentally handicapped young man and Lainie Kazan in a thong, during the relatively short running time. It's all far too much to take in over one sitting, and Brest fails to make all these wildly uneven pieces connect in the way they must have in his screenplay. Director Brest wants to cover all the little character idiosyncrasies writer Brest put his heart into, but "Gigli" is hardly a film that warrants such complexity. At its best, it's a charming film whose offbeat choices in material service the film in a funny way. At its worst, "Gigli" assumes its high quality a little too confidently, and is laughably presumptuous about what the audiences will buy in terms of character development.
I also expected a little more from Brest when it comes to achieving laughs. All too often, Brest will cut to Brian to get an easy joke, most notably having the mentally challenged man sing rap songs and dance in place. Show it once, and maybe you can get away with it, but Brest goes back to it three times, even having Brian tackle the booty classic "Baby Got Back." Hilarious? Maybe, if you're in the right mood. But even then, Brest fills his other scenes with despondent lesbians slicing their wrists, or a cameoing Al Pacino at his most disgracefully blustering worst, trying to find a center where all these moods can coexist. Wes Anderson made it look easy in "The Royal Tenenbaums," but Brest can't quite nail it in "Gigli."
Making what is there work to a certain degree is Ben Affleck. While this is far from the actor's finest hour, Affleck assumes his character with a certain amount of vitality not seen from other actors his age. Larry Gigli is a loner, a dimwit and a lothario, and Affleck manages to make all of these qualities fit into one man with minimal sweat, even when Brest can't quite find Gigli's pulse in the writing. I was praying to find a little more of the Affleck charm found in other, better films, but his work in "Gigli" is passable, even at times channeling the long dead spirit of Andrew Dice Clay for inspiration.
His much publicized co-star Jennifer Lopez fares a little better, but she's stuck with a character that cheats her way out of a truly interesting relationship with Gigli by admitting she's had men in her life. I'm not that big a fan of Lopez, but her Ricki performance is tolerable, if not remarkable. Lopez is given speech after speech in absence of true dialog. With her baby-talk delivery, Lopez doesn't seem like much of a threat detailing forcible ocular removal to some young trash-talking punks, but she's been a whole lot worse recently ("Enough," "Angel Eyes").
The pre-release hype has been so deafening on "Gigli" that it's become unfair to the final product. True, the film doesn't work. It takes on far too much weight without care to how it affects the final product. It's also another example of Martin Brest's continuing breakdown of quality control. But there are moments that shine in "Gigli," so let's save the crucifixion for another production down the road.
Filmfodder Grade: D+