Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oscars Come And Go, But "Gigli" Is Forever

It can't really be that bad, can it? (Yes, it can.)
It looks like Ben Affleck is primed to consummate his return into America's hearts this Sunday: "Argo," his third project as a director, is the front-runner for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Though Affleck himself was not nominated for either Best Actor or Best Director, I think we can agree that a Best Picture win would be a win for Ben Affleck first and everyone else involved second.

I've written about Ben Affleck before ("Ben Affleck Suffers From Drew Barrymore Disease"), and even after seeing "Argo," which was a good movie even with him in the lead role, I stand by my appraisal of his strengths: he's best in supporting comic roles, and his mid-aughts downfall was the result of Hollywood trying to squeeze that square peg into the round hole of a dramatic leading man. ("Argo" works with Affleck in the lead largely because his character listens a lot more than he talks.)

Affleck's career was in a downward spiral thanks to a string of missteps including: the unwatchable comic-book adaptation "Daredevil"; trying to follow Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford into the Jack Ryan franchise with the crappity "The Sum of All Fears"; a string of forgettable action thrillers ("Reindeer Games," "Changing Lanes,"); and the leading role "Pearl Harbor," one of the worst big big blockbusters ever aggressively marketed to the moviegoing public.

But it was his pairing with then-ladyfriend Jennifer Lopez in "Gigli" that really turned his career into a crisis. The movie got universally bad reviews and people still joke about it to this day -- it's the go-to shorthand for "bad movie." But has anyone other than movie critics ever actually seen it? I haven't seen it. Have you seen it?

I'm curious: what went wrong here? "Gigli" was directed by Martin Brest, who is responsible for one of my favorite movies ever ("Midnight Run") and a bona-fide all-time classic ("Beverly Hills Cop"), both comic crime films, which if I'm not mistaken is what "Gigli" is. With Ben Affleck playing to his strengths (light comedy) and with a beautiful costar whom he apparently had some kind of chemistry with offscreen at the very least, why did this movie turn out to be such a disaster? Is it really even a disaster, or did people just pick on it because they disapproved of his relationship with J-Lo, or because he had worn out his welcome before this? Is this one of those movies people just didn't understand? I didn't love "The Big Lebowski" the first time I saw it but it has since become my favorite comedy ever. Could the same thing have happened with "Gigli"?  

Strap in, folks, 'cause we're about to find out!

0:02 -- The movie opens with Affleck, hair combed straight back and wearing a bowling shirt (to indicate "knockaround guy"), threatening a man he has apparently bound, gagged, and stuffed into a commercial dryer. The jaunty music indicates it's supposed to be funny, and I guess if could potentially be, but it isn't. Instead, there's some wannabe-Tarantinoey speculation about what a human body would look like and weigh if you could remove all the water from it. I have no idea what this has to do with getting the money (Affleck's apparently muscle for a loan shark or something) or being threatening, but when he closes the dryer and starts to turn it on, the guy gives in and says he has the money.

0:04 -- Affleck goes to see his -- Supervisor? Boss? Dispatcher? What's the correct term in the underworld? -- who apparently conducts business on his feet beside a Los Angeles sidewalk cafe, and immediately corrects him pronunciation of his name, which happens to be the title of the movie: it's not "Jiggly," it's "Jeely." ("It rhymes with 'Really,'" he explains. Really.) Here we have the first avoidable problem with the movie: the title is hard to say. Not many of us would look at the word "Gigli" and say "Jeely." Why not just title it "Larry" or give Affleck a different last name or give it some generic crime-comedy title like "First Things First" or "Bad Penny" or whatever? But also, why does this other guy pronounce Gigli's name phonetically? When would he ever have had an opportunity to see it written down? On his W2? And if he only ever calls him by his last name, wouldn't this conversation have happened the day they met?

0:05 -- It seems Gigli only got half of what the guy in the dryer owed. Five minutes in and we're already seeing that this hardened criminal has a heart of gold in there somewhere. What an original premise! I can't wait to see what they do with it.

0:06 -- This thing is moving fast: Gigli is given an assignment to kidnap a "psychologically challenged" relative to someone making trouble for his boss in New York. I can see the pitch now: it's "Rain Man" meets "Midnight Run!"

0:09 -- Turns out "psychologically challenged" was a euphemism for "retarded." The retarded kidnap target, Brian, is babbling about "Baywatch" just like Dustin Hoffman babbled about "ten minutes to Wapner." Gigli gets him out of the halfway house or whatever by promising to "take him to the Baywatch." And to think I was kidding about the "Rain Man" thing.

0:11 -- Gigli calls the boss to say he's got the retarded kid. "Already?" the boss asks with mild surprise. This exact same scene was also in "Midnight Run." The fact that "Midnight Run" is one of my very favorite movies does not keep me from noticing that this director is blatantly (and badly) stealing from his own movie. I wonder if Brian is about to jump out of the car or somehow give Gigli the slip?

0:13 -- Back at Gigli's apartment, Gigli struggles to keep the kid quiet. The doorbell rings, and -- enter J-Lo! J-Lo, may I be the first to observe, is very pretty. She wants to use Gigli's phone, because the phone company has not showed up to connect her new apartment. What year was this movie made again? 2003? Didn't everyone have cell phones in 2003? Anyway, she uses her feminine wiles to persuade a reluctant, if intrigued (J-Lo is very pretty) Gigli to let her in. I'm calling it right now: she's also trying to kidnap the kid. The angry moustache cop from "Beverly Hills Cop" who was also the rival bounty hunter in "Midnight Run" -- that's who J-Lo is. Although J-Lo looks much, much better in a midriff-baring blouse.

0:17 -- I guessed right. Louis (I guess that's the boss' name) sent J-Lo, who tells Gigli "Louis said you were a fuckup but I'm amazed how much of a fuckup you really are." How did I possibly see that coming? I guess I've just seen too many movies. Which is to say, I've seen movies. Anyway, she's there to watch Gigli, because the retarded kid kidnapping caper is just too important to leave to just one contractor. Unclear why they didn't just give J-Lo the job in the first place.

0:20 -- Ben Affleck allowed himself to be filmed telling Jennifer Lopez that he is "the sultan of slick," "the rule of fucking cool," and "the original straight first foremost pimp mack fuckin hustler original gangster's gangster." Character choice or no, that is awful dialogue delivered poorly, and there is not a woman alive, much less one of J-Lo's caliber, who would ever allow herself to be touched by a guy who had ever made this speech. I feel like I need to take a shower before going on.

0:21 -- Whatever sympathy Glgli may have earned by only taking half the money at the beginning, he loses and then some when he starts physically taking out his frustration on the special-needs kid. Lopez and her bare midriff quickly intervene. Why is this movie named after such a jerk?

0:23 -- I can't place this accent Affleck is doing. It's kind of a Brooklyn fused with Chicago kind of thing, a little of both and not enough of either. If he's doing an accent, why not go with Boston? We know he can do Boston. It's funny when he does Boston. What is this? 

Proven seduction technique: talking about your cock
0:24 -- God help me, is this thing going to be Affleck and J-Lo bantering about sexual politics? Affleck's character seems to be getting dumber with each scene, and telling J-Lo "In every relationship there's a bull and there's a cow. I'm the bull and you're the cow" suggests that that pattern is going to continue.

0:29 -- So it looks like the rest of this movie is going to be about Affleck being a buffoon. His character doesn't seem to be very smart either.

0:31 -- After posing down in the bathroom mirror and rehearsing threatening imaginary J-Lo with sexual mayhem, Gigli puts on his sexiest silk bathrobe and slides into his bed next to the actual J-Lo. She drops the bomb: she's a lesbian. Wha-oh! I guess there's no possible way he can persuade her to change her entire sexual identity by the end of this movie!  I can hear the pitch: "It's 'Rain Man' meets 'Midnight Run' meets 'Chasing Amy'!" Which Ben Affleck was in! Fool Ben Affleck into starring in a totally implausible lesbian-curing love story once, shame on you. Fool him twice...

0:34 -- Christopher Walken arrives, playing a cop. Will he electrify the movie and kick it up to another level (which in this case would bring it up to "almost watchable") like he did "True Romance"?
0:35 -- No, no he will not.

0:36 -- Walken expositions that Brian is the younger brother of a federal prosecutor. Then he starts talking about wanting pie, and then he leaves. He stumbled into the scene like he was shooting a different movie one stage over and got lost on his way back from the bathroom, and left the same way. What am I watching? What am I doing here? What am I doing with my life? There's no purpose, no plan, just a pointless live-blog of an unambiguously bad movie. I'll be back in a minute, I have to go have an existential crisis in the bathroom.

0:40 -- I just noticed: Brian is the lost groom from "The Hangover." More talk about "the Baywatch." It's starting to occur to me that while he directed them, maybe Martin Brest did not write "Beverly Hills Cop" or "Midnight Run."

0:45 -- After J-Lo uses reason, intelligence, and feminine charm to defuse a confrontation with some young toughs, Gigli breaks their computer over his knee and says "Suck my dick dot com" as they're leaving. We're not even halfway through and my strength is flagging.

0:47 -- J-Lo starts trying to psychoanalyze Gigli, much the way Charles Grodin asked De Niro "Why aren't you popular with the Chicago Police Department?" over and over. This movie is like a beat-for-beat porn parody of "Midnight Run," censored for broadcast TV. Except that Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin had a lot more sexual chemistry.

0:51 -- Gigli, J-Lo, and Brian drop by to see Gigli's mom for no good reason. Mom fawns over J-Lo's beauty, and, when told she's a lesbian, keeps hope alive by getting J-Lo to admit she's been with men before. Wait, what? Might Gigli cure her of her lesbianism? Only a movie that understands nothing about human sexuality would be so brazen. 

This part actually isn't so bad with the sound off
0:53 -- If this whole movie had just been two hours of J-Lo practicing yoga in silence, it would have gotten much better reviews. But it even messes this scene up by making it the setting for another "you're not really a lesbian" discussion, with Affleck discussing, at painful length neither amusing nor insightful, the penis and its capacity to satisfy.

0:57 -- J-Lo's rebuttal is not as sexy as it's clearly meant to be, but she's still doing yoga, so it's tolerable. Let me rewatch this scene with the sound off. Yeah, much better that way. Hold on, one more time just to be sure.

1:00 -- Louis calls with orders to send Brian's' thumb to his prosecutor brother, to intimidate the prosecutor into dropping charges against some boss back in New York. It's been about 25 minutes since anything resembling a plot point happened, so this is a welcome development. Gigli, reasonably, does not want to cut the thumb off. Will J-Lo cut the thumb off? She's supposed to be the super-competent one, right?

1:02 -- I guess it's going to be a running gag: Brian likes to be read to at bedtime, and Gigli doesn't own any books, so he reads from the grocery labels. First was Tabasco sauce, now it's toilet paper. That doesn't sound hilarious? I guess you have to see it.

1:04 -- When they went to bed in the last scene, J-Lo's hair was wet. Now Gigli wakes up and J-Lo is in the shower. Who showers before bed and then first thing in the morning? Will J-Lo be revealed to have crippling germophobia or something? That would be a lot more interesting than the movie to this point.

1:07 -- J-Lo's lesbian girlfriend arrives to make jealous drama and, in a jarring tonal shift, slit her own wrists with Gigli's kitchen knife when J-Lo breaks up with her on the spot. Is this a comedy? I thought this was a comedy. There have to be easier ways to show that being a lesbian is not without its difficulties.

1:10 -- J-Lo doesn't want to cut the thumb off either, saying she didn't sign up to be a brutal thug. Forget the thumb: What, exactly, is kidnapping a retarded kid if it's not brutal thuggery? Why are either of these people professional criminals? Why am I watching this? Why are you reading about it? So many questions.

1:11 -- It is the thumb that will provide our heroes common cause to unite against the boss and eventually let Brian go. They agree not to cut it off, and in the course of the discussion J-Lo manages to not only raise the image of blowing Gigli for 22 hours but to make it sound totally unappealing.

1:13 -- Looks like they're going to cut the thumb off a cadaver in the morgue and send that to the prosecutor. Hilariously, Gigli saws it off with a clear plastic knife while Brian recites "Baby Got Back." How long do you think before Justin Bartha (who plays Brian) took this movie off his reel? A month? A week?

1:17 -- A heartfelt monologue from Gigli about how heartbroken he is that he can never have this amazing woman who he met the day before yesterday. Is he getting through? Is J-Lo going to give him a chance, even though he's the kind of guy who doesn't own a single book and relates to women in cow-bull metaphors and calls himself "the rule of fucking cool" and uses a plastic knife to cut off a thumb, even when he's standing in the middle of a hospital?

1:17 -- Is there really 45 minutes left to go in this movie?

1:19 -- It's weird that this movie pretty much assassinated Jennifer Lopez's movie career, because while she is hardly Meryl Streep in it, she's far from its biggest problem. As a matter of fact, she's about the only thing it has going for it. This performance is not all that far away from her turn in "Out Of Sight" that made everyone (myself included) fall in love with her -- the problem is this awful, unreadable, unperformable script.

1:20 -- Wait, what? Just like that, J-Lo is attacking Gigli in the bedroom. What did he do to change her mind? That rant about how he can never have her? The time he roughed up the retarded kid? The time he threatened her girlfriend with a beating? I would think that his speech about the penis alone would cancel out any dubiously earned goodwill and then some. If I made that same speech to my wife of 12 years, I think she would be a lesbian before I got to the end. This movie is really weird.

1:24 -- So is Gigli being proven right, that nothing can satisfy a woman like a man? Sure looks like it. Although, in the afterglow, he's got his head on her shoulder and not vice-versa. Clever gender role reversal! And what better time to revisit the nonsensical "bull and cow" argument from their adorable first meeting? "Moo," moos Gigli, surrendering all that hard-earned machismo with a full 30 minutes left in the movie.

1:25 -- America's favorite new power couple leaves Brian in their hotel room for an emergency meeting with Louis.  En route, Gigli admits to his fantasy of getting away from it all, where he can be away from all the bad stuff, where he can be himself. That would be... I don't know, Palm Springs?

It's me! Hoo-ah! 
1:28 -- Al Pacino is in this movie? Oh, right, Martin Brest made "Scent of a Woman" so I guess Al owes him one. Based on Christopher Walken's cameo, though, I don't have much hope for the impact he might have here.  It seems he is the New York mobster whose freedom is in peril because of the prosecutor with the special needs brother. The plot of this movie is pretty thin gruel.

1:31 -- Pacino shoots Louis in the head! That's right: SOMETHING HAPPENED IN THIS MOVIE. It has to be a fluke, right?

1:33 -- In a bizarre twist, Al Pacino is now pointing out, in detail, the basic absurdity of the plot of this movie: that attempting to extort a federal prosecutor by kidnapping his retarded brother is really stupid. Someone had to do it, I guess. Anyway, that's why he killed Louis, and that's why he's about to kill the world's worst couple.

1:38 -- J-Lo talks Al out of killing them by promising (implicitly) to kill Brian. I say implicitly because she says they'll make sure he can never testify against anyone. Calling it right now: she and Gigli are going to move to a tropical island together and raise Brian as their own.

1:39 -- Maybe not; they're just taking him back to the halfway house. Charmed by his recitation of LL Cool J's "I Need Love," Gigli chooses this moment to offer him some life advice: confront your worst fears and good things will happen. I think that means he's about to confront Al Pacino. Or maybe admit that he's gay, as J-Lo was insinuating right before she jumped his bones.

1:41 -- If what he feared most was telling J-Lo he wants her to run away with him, Gigli just confronted his fear, and J-Lo cut him off and shut him down. Because, you know, she's a lesbian and he's not.

1:43 -- J-Lo tells Gigli to drop her off by the highway, and Gigli tells Brian it's time to go back to the halfway house. Brian is crestfallen by the prospect of parting ways with these two people who spent the whole three days they've known each other either abusing him or bickering with each other. I'm standing by my prediction: these three are going to go make a family somewhere. This movie has done nothing to make me imagine it would do anything any less dumb than that.

1:44 -- Oh, god. Driving down the beachside highway, Brian sees a movie shoot on the beach, lights and cameras and girls in bikinis, and starts whooping and hollering and bouncing in the backseat as music of triumph swells. That's right, he's finally at The Baywatch. Settling into what I increasingly believe will soon be their family roles -- curmudgeonly dad and indulgent mom -- Gigli doesn't want to pull over at The Baywatch, but J-Lo is all for it. Guess who gets their way?

1:48 -- On the beach, Gigli calls Brian's brother the prosecutor, and with that, the authorities are presumably on their way. So I guess they're not going to all go live together. But Gigli's heartfelt apology for being such a dick is warming J-Lo's heart. No one in this movie has done anything that makes sense, except for Al Pacino explaining how stupid the plot is.

1:50 -- Now Gigli wants to give J-Lo his car because he's trying to change his image. Wha? He's giving her his car? Is this something anyone would ever do, ever? At this point it would come as a relief if Gigli unzipped the back of his head to reveal that he is a space alien unschooled in the ways of human behavior. J-Lo gives him a kiss, jumps in the car, and disappears, and please god let that be the end of this movie.

1:54 -- Brian takes Gigli's advice and seizes the day and dances with a blonde in a bikini for the shoot on the beach, and as Gigli walks off into the sunset, J-Lo pulls up and finally tells him her real name, Rochelle, and offers him a ride, and the couple's romantic future is left ambiguous but hopeful. Roll credits thank god and pass the sedatives.

Holy crap. What a fiasco. I was hoping this thing was a secret classic, or at least unfairly maligned, but if anything it's even worse than its reputation. Affleck's character never comes anywhere near likeable, Special Needs Brian is a direct lift from "Rain Man," and the idea that J-Lo's character -- the only non-offensive presence in the movie -- would go for Affleck, even if she weren't a lesbian, strains even movie-logic credulity.

The plot, to the extent that there is one, is stupid, but that's not a necessarily fatal problem, as countless stupid-but-good movies have shown. The real problem is that nothing happens. There are no stakes. There is no excitement. Except for the five minutes where Al Pacino waves a gun around, no one is ever in any danger. Nothing happens. Would it have been difficult to make Gigli and J-Lo take Brian on the lam while pursued by Feds, or local cops, or a P.I., or rival crooks, or a pizza guy? Why, other than a confused 5-minute scene with Christopher Walken, are the police a complete non-presence in a crime movie?

And Ben Affleck. Oh my god. Though I have never loved him in dramatic roles, I've always thought he had a nice light touch with comedy but he is absolutely unwatchable here. Maybe it's just supporting comic roles he's good in? The character is horribly written, yes, but a bunch of warmed-over tough-guy mannerisms is not a performance, it's dinner theater De Niro. This one movie is enough to make me reappraise my whole opinion of the guy.

Good luck at the Oscars, Ben. Your Hollywood redemption is nearly complete. It seems likely that you will stay on top for many years to come. In time, the general public may even forget "Changing Lanes" and "Reindeer Games" and "Paycheck" (best bad-movie title ever) and see you only as a prestige filmmaker doing great work. They may even forget "Gigli." But that's only because they never live-blogged it. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, no matter how great your Whitey Bulger movie with Matt Damon turns out, I will always remember "Gigli." Like a veteran remembers Hamburger Hill, I will remember live-blogging "Gigli."

I will remember.

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