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Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment

Starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez

Written and directed by Martin Brest

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Review by D.K. Holm                    

I come not to bury, but to view Brest. Martin Brest, that is, and his film Gigli.

This reviewer did not see Gigli on the big screen (reviewers have to save something for DVD). Nor did I read any of the reviews at the time. I was barely even aware that this was the film during which Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez fell in love while making (Halle Berry was originally going to star). But I was aware that the film had somehow already gathered the moss of critical contempt.

How do such things happen? How do critics fall into lockstep, become victim to groupthink of such Orwellian proportions over something as simple as a movie? I have it on good authority that just prior to an advance screening in a medium-sized town on the west coast the reviewers were already determined to hate Gigli. "It might be good," my spy said hopefully, only to be shouted down by her colleagues, all evincing sneers and charges that Gigli was going to be "junk," or other four-letter words to that effect.

We all know what happened next.

Gigli was reviled by most national critics. At Rotten Tomatoes.com, the film received but 10 "fresh" tomatoes out of 143 reviews, the rest splats. But this reviewer found Gigli to be amusing and surprisingly sweet-natured, with some good acting turns, even from Affleck. After seeing the film on DVD I caught up with a few of the reviews, and am still baffled as to why it inspired such ire. There is something gravely wrong with an intellectual culture that can so blindly follow the lead of some vaguely established dictum that says this movie is approved, and that one is to be condemned. On what basis did all these reviewers hate the film before even seeing it? Gossip items on Page Six?

In any case, to view Gigli with an unprejudiced eye either one way or the other is now almost impossible (in fact, Columbia might have been wiser not to release the film on DVD so quickly, but rather wait a few years for critical backlash to reverse). At the risk of sounding like a aesthetic naïf, I can say that Gigli is not the worst film ever made and a damn sight better than a lot of other films release simultaneously, such as American Wedding and The Secret Lives of Dentists. But then, I tend to be fond of Martin Brest. Midnight Run is one of the funniest comedies of the '80s. Even Meet Joe Black can be enjoyed for its precise, vocabulary-rich dialogue and its unreconstructed romanticism. Almost all of Brest's movies are about someone burdened by companionship with an individual challenged in a peculiar manner — a socially inept accountant, a blind soldier, Death himself in suddenly human form — and Gigli, for better or worse, is a variation on Brest's obsessive theme.

*          *          *

Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck) is a youngish enforcer (not a hit-man, as some reviewers claimed) collecting debts for an irritable, transplanted gangster in Los Angeles named Louis (Lenny Venito). Larry is given the task of kidnapping and then babysitting Brian (Justin Bartha), the brain-damaged brother of the prosecutor harassing Larry and Louis's boss, Mr. Starkman (Al Pacino). Louis doesn't trust Larry's competence, however, and sends over another "contractor," a female enforcer who goes by the name Ricki (Jennifer Lopez). Ricki turns out to be a lesbian and finds Larry at first highly resistible. But eventually she is charmed by his sincere spirit and the human hurt hidden beneath his tough facade.

Brest writes good dialogue, and, though the critics who were unified in their hate of Gigli will no doubt scoff at such a notion, Brest is perhaps the only living heir to Preston Sturges, able to amusingly and convincingly put high-flown verbiage in the mouths of the low or loathsome. Each character has a distinctive manner of speaking. In fact, one could also argue that the cast was given instructions to mimic other actors: Affleck is doing De Niro from early Scorsese films (which is plausible: Wouldn't a lot of young aspiring gangsters mimic De Niro?), and Christopher Walken, in a cameo as an inept police detective, seems to be delivering his lines under the inspiration of Al Pacino in Heat. Then Al Pacino himself shows up, and he seems to be mimicking Ron Silver from Blue Steel!

And the film is at least thematically consistent. Gigli opens and closes with the premise that "you just never know," and the movie hews to that theme with its unpredictable, if soft in nature, plot-line. Though far from the vile excrescence denounced by the reviewers, Gigli does remain a far-from-perfect film. Lopez's character is a little too smugly knowing and in control of Larry at the start, and the brain-damaged Brian, if the reader will forgive the observation, lacks depth; he seems weirdly irrelevant to the actual mechanics of the plot.

The best reviews of Gigli appeared before it even came out, based solely on the script (there are two of them, one at Screenwriters Utopia.com and one by Staxx), and they pretty much isolate the film's flaws. For example, the Walken character was originally more than just a one-scene cameo. And the primary script had a wildly different, more somber ending. But they also note the fact that there really isn't any conflict in Gigli, unlike in earlier Brest films.

*          *          *

Columbia Tristar, perhaps in damage-control mode, does not offer the filmmakers a forum to fight back: the Gigli disc comes sans audio track, sans "making-of," sans everything. What it does offer is an adequate anamorphic transfer (2.40:1, according to the box), with a pan-and-scan option, and a underexploited DD 5.1 track in English and French, with English, French, Chinese, Korean, and Thai subtitles. Supplements consist solely of the trailer for Gigli, along with trailers for Anaconda, Maid in Manhattan, and Mona Lisa Smile.

— D.K. Holm

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