This misbegotten mess is less a movie than a string of over-the-top audition monologues, those random set-pieces designed to show off an actor’s facility with language and attitude. Those can be entertaining in their own way, but they do not have anything to do with creating a character or telling a story, just two of the many movie-making essentials that are missing in “Gigli.”
Ben Affleck plays Larry Gigli (pronounced to rhyme with “really”), a small-time enforcer for a small-time hood named Louis. Larry’s latest assignment is to kidnap a retarded young man named Brian (Justin Bartha) to help Louis and his colleagues apply some pressure to Brian’s brother. So Larry picks up Brian and brings him back to his apartment.
A beautiful woman (Jennifer Lopez) who says her name is Ricki tells Larry that she has also been hired by Louis to make sure he does not mess up the job. Larry’s macho ego is affronted, but he is attracted to Ricki, even after she tells him she is gay.
A lot of bickering and bantering later, much of it involving mind-numbing debates over who is the boss and straight vs. gay sex, plus encounters with the mother of one and the ex-lover of the other, Larry and Ricki have to decide whether they are willing to hurt or kill Brian and that leads them to think differently about themselves and each other.
The movie has the traditional odd couple structure — friction, the chance to prove themselves to one another, mutual epiphinies, and finally, respect and affection. But it never finds any tone or direction or believable connection between the characters.
Larry is a one-dimensional dim but macho guy. Ricki is a one-dimensional fantasy figure. Their bickering has no spark, and the evolution of their relationship is not grounded in any way because they are not really characters, just attributes and attitude, with no internal consistency. Larry is devoted to his mother in one scene, but seems to have no thought about abandoning her in another.
The narrative is choppy. It was probably recut following test screenings, but the effect is to make the events unconnected to each other, without any direction or momentum. Let me also point out that in addition to the overdone odd couple plot device, the movie includes several elements from the “should never be in another movie” list, including a vocabulary-building hood and a noble disabled person whose disability shifts according to the requirements of each scene and who transforms the lives of the supposedly normal people around him.
Meanwhile, somewhere in there Christopher Walken (as a cop) and Al Pacino (as a crime boss) drop by for the showy audition-monologue-style scenes that have some verve but add nothing to the plot, tone, or themes of the movie. So does Lainie Kazan, in yet another ethnic earth-mother role, (we really did not need to see her thong underwear — another thing that should be on the “never in another movie list”). Indeed, there really is nothing that could be called plot, tone, or theme in this movie. For a brief, mad, moment I had a flicker of a thought that the mundane inanity of the sordid and petty imperatives imposed on Larry and Ricki might be some Samuel Beckett-style commentary on the existential void. Then I realized that watching the movie put me closer to the existential void than they ever were, and that Godot would arrive long before this movie went anywhere.
It’s not the worst movie ever. It’s not even the worst movie of the year. And it’s not as bad as the Jen/Ben backlash want it to be. But it is not a good movie, and it is a terrible waste of talent.
Parents should know that this movie has graphic violence, non-stop profanity, and extremely explicit sexual references and situations. A character attempts suicide and then disappears from the story. In a better movie, the fact that the most capable and intelligent character is a bi-sexual Hispanic woman would be more worthwhile. Bartha’s portrayal of Brian is probably the most natural and authentic of the movie, but the character of the retarded man is the stereotypical noble disabled person and really no more than a prop for the other characters to react to.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Brian made Larry and Ricki feel differently about their choice of careers. What did it mean when Ricki finally told Larry her real name? What do you think of Sun Tzu’s view that in a a conflict, “angry is a statistically stupid move?” Have you ever used anger to mask sadness? What do you think about the advice to do the thing you’re most afraid of?
Families who like this movie will like director Martin Brest’s much better odd couple movie Midnight Run, starring Robert de Niro and Charles Grodin as a bounty hunter and his bail-jumping captive. They might also enjoy Prizzi’s Honor, about another odd-couple romance of two professional hitmen (I guess a hit-man and a hit-woman) and the quirky Welcome to Collinwood, about a ragtag group of small-time crooks with the dream of just one big-time heist. Rain Man, referred to in this movie, is an Oscar-winning story about a man who meets up with his autistic brother. And in Chasing Amy (for the most mature audiences only), Ben Affleck again plays a heterosexual man in love with a gay woman.