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While shooting To Have and Have Not, Humphrey Bogart met Lauren Bacall and the sparks flew. Under the masterful direction of Howard Hawks, the picture crackles with wit and sexual tension. The whole thing is a gem and a testament to one of the great Hollywood love stories.

The main difference between To Have and Have Not and Gigli is that Bogie had a strong onscreen presence and Bacall was unnaturally alluring. Oh, and that Gigli doesn't have masterful direction, wit, or sexual tension.

If we've learned anything from Kevin Costner and his baseball movies, it's that Gigli is the second picture in what we can only assume will become a trilogy of "Ben Affleck turns a lesbian straight" movies. Before all of that predictable malarkey, the plot stumbles through some mess about a trial and a federal prosecutor's retarded brother.

Affleck plays Larry Gigli - which "rhymes with really". Isn't that a corker that should be repeated more than an SNL catchphrase in a failing sketch? He's a bottom feeding street thug whose chest holds a heart with a softspot like the head of a newborn. He takes the dirty job of kidnapping Brian (Justin Bartha), the feeb, for leverage on the trial, but his employer smartly doesn't trust Gigli's intellect against the wily retard. So he sends a mysterious lesbian named Ricki (Jennifer Lopez) who must be smart because, in the parlance of the woman sitting behind me, "she uses big words."

Really, the story is a lot like The Odd Couple, if Felix had been really stupid and Oscar had been a moron and then they kidnapped a kid with Down's. While slogging through one talky faux-intellectual exchange on sexual politics after another, our three core characters wander into contact with four other characters who each get one scene and really have no bearing on anything in particular.

About 30 minutes in, Chistopher Walken shows up as a cop who seems to be hot on Gigli's tail, only to never be mentioned again. Even later, Al Pacino shows up in a ponytailed rug, so furious you'd think he had to sit through the first 90 minutes of the picture like the rest of us.

One of the worst things the picture does is play Brian's handicap for laughs. It's not that I'm above a good mean-spirited laugh at a retard's expense, but that ironic detachment comes at a price. When the Farrellys make fun of a Corky, or you giggle at a Kids of Widney High song, there's a certain guilt that comes with that. When you watch The Other Sister for the laughs, you look around to make sure no one is watching you mock your way deeper into hell, but Gigli makes no such apologies.

The script has Brian say crazy or silly things at inappropriate moments in order to get the laughs that it can't squeeze out of what should be a comedy goldmine. When a picture tries to play everything else so straight, these aren't even really laughs so much as they are simply enticements or at least pleas to not sneak out to see what's playing in the theater next door, which would most certainly have to be better.

Part of this problem is in Brian's introduction. The camera follows Gigli through some kind of home. The camera glides over the faces of many obviously mentally handicapped extras, two of whom have filled a Connect Four board with about eight winning combinations, only to settle on that of Brian. Brian screams 'limited capacity' with his uncool shirt, downward gaze, and sucked in lower lip.

One of these actors is not really retarded.
First, screaming 'limited capacity' in a room with Affleck and Lopez is about as difficult as sharing a secret at a Who concert. And second, Justin Bartha is so obviously just playing dumb that the big surprise at the end of the picture is that he never reveals himself to be faking it like the much more convincing Brian (Edward Norton) in The Score.

Affleck doesn't do much better, adopting a DeNiro frown and a Travolta accent. He seems to think he's doing Mean Streets but it comes off much more The Experts. Some of it is surely not his fault. Everything written about this picture refers to both Gigli and Ricki as Hitmen, even though they never do anything above mob errand boy duty.

At one point they are told to cut off Brian's thumb and mail it as a threat. As the two are idiots, they mail a different thumb without even once considering that concept of fingerprints. One would think that two professional criminals would be fairly aware of that kind of thing. Considering the gore this picture plays with, they could have gotten more mileage out of sacking up and doing the deed. If you're gonna play a retard for laughs, why not just go all the way in and play a one-thumbed retard with a constantly seeping wound for hilarity?

Maybe it's because the only theme this picture brings up and actually sticks with is in direct opposition to sacking up: it's America's favorite, the feminization of the male. Of course, even with his pompadour and painted on tattoos Affleck doesn't really have that much masculinity to sacrifice, but he does give it all up for a woman who seems about as committed to her lesbian lifestyle as director Martin Brest is to directing a good film.

With her vocabulary and slow progress through Being Peace, Ricki is written as the brains of the trio, against Brian's heart and Gigli's passion, but Lopez slams that car into the guard rail like a drunk with a blowout. Any word over two syllables fits a little tighter in her mouth than her world famous rear fits in her lowriders. She sounds like a 4th grader reciting Damon Runyon.

Compounding this problem of overwritten dialogue, Ricki and Gigli's boss Louis (Lenny Venito) has the clichéd gimmick of "learning a word a day." Nothing is really as groundbreaking as a lowclass character who's decided to better himself by expanding his vocabulary to justify a lot of big words. One might say "that gag's got whiskers on it," but that gag's got dirt shoveled on it and worms going through it.

There is one shining moment in the whole film. In a nicely grotesque shot, a dull scene gets an insert of a feeding fish that has so many ramifications one could write a book.

What is Gigli? Is it a romantic comedy? No, not really. Is it a crime picture? Hardly. Is it a good time? Not even close. Gigli is a mess that starts out with an awful script and fills it in with an awful cast. But on the other hand, even this year has held far greater travesties.


Jordan Rosa

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