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Dustin Putman

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Gigli (2003)
3 Stars

Directed by Martin Brest
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Bartha, Lenny Venito, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Lainie Kazan, Missy Crider
2003 – 124 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for pervasive language, sexuality, violence, and brief gore).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 5, 2003.

Opinions are like assholes and everyone's got them, but to call "Gigli" one of the worst motion pictures ever made—as some critics and press have suggested—is frankly absurd. Hasn't anybody seen "Zombie Vs. Mardi Gras?" Perhaps a vendetta has begun against the famed romance of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, or maybe the movie's many detractors simply walked in with a negative attitude based on what they had heard, and nothing they saw could change their minds. Whatever the case, the unfortunately-titled "Gigli," directed by Martin Brest (1998's "Meet Joe Black"), is an entertaining romantic comedy with a fresh, wicked edge. At its center is a relationship between two characters—and two actors—that ignites more steamy chemistry than any movie romance this year.

Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck) is a trash-talking Los Angeles mob enforcer who is assigned to kidnap Brian (Justin Bartha), the mentally challenged brother of a federal prosecutor. Ricki (Jennifer Lopez) is also an enforcer, sent to keep a close eye on Larry to make sure he follows through with the plans who has been given. As Larry and Ricki hang out together, waiting for further instructions and taking a liking to Brian, Larry falls head over heels for the sexy and sweet Ricki. In return, Ricki sort of likes Larry, too. The only problem is she is a lesbian.

That last bit of plot information has been sneakily hidden in the trailers and ads for "Gigli," which make it appear to be a happy-go-lucky conventional romance. With a story that includes gunshots to the head, cut-off fingers, slit wrists, and splattered human brain chunks in a fish tank, it most definitely isn't paint-by-numbers. In spite of these more violent moments, however, the film progresses to become a sweetly winning love story, darker than most comedies of its ilk but with its heart in the right place. Think of it as Quentin Tarantino-lite, complete with some wonderfully snappy dialogue exchanges and occasional blood, but with a more romantic undercurrent than Tarantino is used to.

Lest it appear that "Gigli" is a faultless film, there are a few missteps. Until Ricki shows up about fifteen minutes in, the movie is ploddingly edited and rather inept in its storytelling. One or two lines of dialogue in the first act are overwrought. And some of the musical score cues are intrusive and sloppy. The catch is, once Ricki enters the frame, "Gigli" brightens up considerably and moves at a faster pace. Its two or three misguided lines are a painless price to pay for the more often prevalent sparkling dialogue exchanges, courtesy of writer-director Martin Brest. And for every less-than-stellar piece of score there are even more utterly magical music cues (by composer John Powell), some of the most effective in months.

The plot is admittedly pretty unbelievable, if only because Larry and Ricki do not plausibly have it in them to work for the mob. Pairing Ben Affleck (2003's "Daredevil") and Jennifer Lopez (2002's "Maid in Manhattan") together is the film's most vital agenda, and it succeeds effortlessly on this count. Affleck, with thick Brooklyn accent in tow, wisely does not endear his Larry Gigli (pronounced "Jeally") to the audience from the first frame, but makes him someone the viewer is unsure how to feel about until his falsely tough outer layer is stripped back to reveal a gentle soul. As Ricki, Lopez delivers another ultra-sexy and bewitching performance, further proving that she has more pure talent than her moniker, "J. Lo," suggests. Together, one can almost witness on film Affleck and Lopez falling in love in real life, making their romance all the more involving and worth rooting for. Kudos must also go with how Ricki's lesbianism is realistically and unpredictably treated within a heterosexual romance.

The supporting cast is mostly filled with extended one-scene cameos, as the main attraction is, and never strays from, Affleck and Lopez. The biggest support comes from newcomer Justin Bartha, doing a supremely fine job as the presumably autistic Brian. Lainie Kazan (2000's "The Crew") has a charming scene as Larry's mom, who shares a moment of female bonding with Ricki. And Al Pacino (2002's "Insomnia") is chilling as Pacino can only be in villain roles as ruthless mob boss Starkman.

Why "Gigli" is getting so widely lambasted from other critics, I do not know. As a romance, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez are on fire. Their characters have more character shades and depth than is the norm for the genre, and they delight in the showy and witty dialogue they get to speak. The ending is idealistic and not completely believable, but it also works, in spite of the reasons it shouldn't, because it earns it. "Gigli" may not be a life-changing motion picture, but it is always likable. Most of all, and most importantly, it has a good heart.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman