(Revisionist) Movie Review : Gigli (2003)
* This review contains spoilers *
Martin Brest had a good thing going in the movie business. His directing career counted only eight credits, but they were movie everybody loved and remembered years afterwards: Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run, Scent of a Woman, Meet Joe Black, titles that are arguably still relevant today. Brest’s career came to a screeching halt in 2003 when he was allowed to direct one of his own screenplays, romantic comedy Gigli. It would be the last movie he’d ever direct. What is that bad? Did it warrant tar, feathers and banishment for Martin Brest?
In this new Revisionist Reviews series, I’ll give an analytical eye to movies like Gigli, who everybody has an opinion on…. whether they’ve seen it or not.
Gigli tells the story of… well, Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck) a two-bit mob enforcer working for a two-bit New York mobster stereotype (Lenny Venito)… in Los Angeles? He’s tasked with kidnapping a federal prosecutor’s handicapped little brother (Justin Bartha) in order to derail an investigation against his organization’s boss (Al Pacino). Then, he’s inexplicably assigned a super sexy partner (Jennifer Lopez), who’s supposed to make sure he doesn’t fuck up. So, Larry, Ricki (the partner) and the handicapped little brother all live together in a cramped apartment, waiting to be told what to do. That’s about it, really.
Revisionist Reviews are going to work a little differently. I’m not going to go over the movie as a whole, but I’m going to tell you why it sucks if it does and why it’s misunderstood if it is. And let me tell you: Gigli deserves every bit of its reputation. This movie is a two hours-long train wreck and I’ll give you 3 reasons why:
Larry and Ricki are harmless
Gigli is a movie about career criminals committing a pretty serious crime: kidnapping. There’s absolutely no violence or feeling of danger whatsoever. Larry walks into little brother Brian’s group home and walks out of there without a fight. Ricki talks a big game about killing Larry, but never gives him a reason to fear her. They’re just two, fun-loving characters in over their head with a zany situation. They could just walk out the door and into the sunset when it gets too complicated… and guess what?
IT’S EXACTLY WHAT THEY DO AT THE END.
Perhaps the best example of the painful lack of stakes is Ricki’s refusal to cut Brian’s thumb at the requet of her boss. She doesn’t even try to do it. She flat out says no and gets Larry to steal a thumb at the local morgue. What kind of fuckin’ cold-blooded criminal are you? Contractors are supposed to let their feelings at the door in exchange for money. Not once in the movie Ricki does something to justify her presence in the movie. She comes off like a thrill-seeking fraud. Larry’s a terrible character, but at least he has a scene in the beginning where he… you know, enforces for the mob.
Larry doesn’t deserve Ricki’s feelings
But who cares about stakes, right? A romantic comedy should be driven by the actual romantic stakes between the protagonist. Well, that isn’t clear either. Ricki first tells Larry that she’s gay and then inexplicably falls in love with him. I cannot tell you why. He is the least attractive character there is: he has a corny pompadour, shitty tattoos and wear wife-beaters and boxers like the sorry stereotype that he is. Even a peak Ben Affleck couldn’t make this sexy. But that’s not the worst part…
Larry’s also ultra sexist. Calls himself “the bull” and Ricki “the cow”. He’s convinced that she won’t be able to resist his manly charm and - tragically enough - turns out to be 100% right. Larry never, ever gives Ricki a reason to care for him. There’s a short car scene where she tells him that she understands male anger to really be sadness…. and perhaps that’s it? Perhaps that she sees the broken kid in him? But we never do see the broken kid in Larry? Larry and Ricki just start fucking at some point, like she just came out of a bottle to grant him his greatest sexual fantasy.
Not only Gigli’s narrative cheats you, but its romantic subplot does too.
Gigli is in love with its own dialogue
For a movie that doesn’t bother earning or explaining anything, Gigli spends an obscene amount of time with wisecracking conversational scenes. My favorite is one where Christopher Walken randomly shows up, playing a police detective, and walks out never to be seen again. Martin Brest spends a good 5 minutes on this scene that has no purpose whatsoever, when he could’ve built the stakes and explained what the fuck was going on. There’s another one near the end, which I believe swallows a good 15 minutes where it’s just Larry, Ricki and Brian saying goodbye to each other and look teary-eyed while doing so. It is excruciatingly long.
Gigli is basically a series of long, conversational scenes that could’ve been skipped.
There you have it. The main problem with Gigli is that it’s written by someone who obviously can’t write and has really warped ideas about what’s funny or sexy. It’s a warped, deranged male fantasy. The kind that you usually keep to yourself because you don’t want people to judge you. Martin Brest didn’t appear to have any scruple in that regard and because of that, he will forever be judged as the guy who made Gigli. Keep sick shit in your mind, people. And if you decide to write a screenplay with it… make sure that other people read it first. Because you don’t want it to become your legacy. Do you?