GIGLI

Directed by Martin Brest. USA.  2002.


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No film in recent memory has been as vilified as Gigli, with many critics and viewers eagerly venting their spleen at the latest Ben and Jen flick.  The truth is that Gigli is nowhere near as bad as you’ve heard; in fact, it’s rather good, and a great deal more interesting than Martin Brest’s last film, Meet Joe Black (1998).  After starring in a series of forgettable thrillers and romantic comedies, Affleck and Lopez get to stretch themselves a little here, playing characters that are far more interesting than the stereotypically perfect protagonists of their previous work. 

Affleck plays a young, somewhat slow-witted low-level mob enforcer Larry Gigli, who is ordered by his boss, Louis (Lenny Venito), to kidnap a mentally retarded boy (Justin Bartha), the son of a federal prosecutor who’s pressuring an associate of Louis’.  However, Louis doesn’t have a lot of faith in Gigli, so he sends along Ricki (Jennifer Lopez) to make sure that Gigli does his job properly.  The rest of the film revolves around the relationship between Gigli and Ricki, but things don’t turn out as predictably as you’d think.  For starters, Gigli’s attempted seduction of Ricki backfires when he discovers that she’s a lesbian.  Gigli is forced to rethink his relationship towards Ricki, and reconsider his career in the criminal world.    

Like Brest’s Midnight Run (1988), this is a leisurely paced comedy thriller, less concerned with plot and more interested in character.  The relationship between Gigli and Ricki is given the room to develop gradually, without plot contrivances forcing them together.  Affleck’s Gigli is a good hearted but dim-witted guy, a man who can’t quite commit to the macho behaviour that the mob demands, and which gangster movies live by.  Some may complain that Affleck is miscast as a hood, but that’s precisely the point; his macho posturing is all hollow bluster and an unconvincing put on.  As for Lopez, she turns in her best work in ages here.  After playing a battered housewife in Enough (2002) and a hotel maid in Maid in Manhattan (2002), Lopez gets the chance to play an far more interesting character here, and she hasn’t been this confident or sexy on screen (particularly in her introductory scene with Affleck) since Out of Sight (1998).  

The much-touted cameos by Christopher Walken and Al Pacino are not the usual ‘celebrity trainspotting’ appearances either; they are both quirky, memorable presence’s.  Walken’s bizarre cop acts like he has wandered in from a David Lynch film, while Pacino’s scene is quite unnerving.  Overall, Gigli is an underrated picture; it's not the bog standard romantic comedy that fans of Ben or Jen might expect, or a film that haters of the couple might dread.  Yes, the film’s pace may flag at times and the over sentimental ending feels too drawn out, but this well worth a look.  Instead of its current reputation as an unfortunate blip in the careers of its leads Gigli may get judged more kindly in hindsight as a movie that allowed Affleck and Lopez a chance to stretch their creative legs and try something new.       

Martyn Bamber
 
 
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