Cinema Autopsy: Giglion February 20, 2013 at 3:41 AM
This is a series of short articles where a member of the Chain Gang watches a horrendous piece of shit movie and dissects it to ponder exactly what went wrong. The goal is not to just hate on an easy target. The goal is to speculate the big questions: What was being attempted? Who is to blame? What can be said in defense of the movie? Essentially, we are giving these messy garbage-heap films their peace, the same way a forensics expert gives peace to the victims they examine.
Probably one of the most critically reviled movies of the last…let’s say…hundred years. Gigli is not known as “so-bad-it’s-good” material that you can enjoy. It is put on a special mantle of “HOLY-SHIT-WHAT-IS-HAPPENING-TO-MY-BRAIN-NOW?!” But clearly that wasn’t the intention of this flick. So whodunit?
A BRIEF SYNOPSIS:
We are introduced to a mongoloid mafia muscle that allegedly has a heart of gold. His name is Larry Gigli. In this fucking movie, we call that a plot point. Larry is essentially a nice guy who just happens to break legs to pay his bills, and his boss is a total asshole who really thinks he’s a big-shot. I think he looks like that one British guy who plays Badger on “Firefly.”
Larry’s boss tells him that the real boss (an actual mafia kingpin) is getting pressure from a district attorney, and they’re going to kidnap his little brother Brian, played by Justin Bartha. Brian is an Annoying Movie Retard™ in the same vein as DiCaprio and Hoffman before him, only without good acting or any concept of developmental disabilities. After Larry easily coerces Brian to get into his car, they hide out at Larry’s palatial apartment. I mean this place is nice. Being fifth banana in a third-rate mob must pay really well.
The film switches premises slightly when Ricki, a lesbian criminal played by Jennifer Lopez, shows up and starts calmly taking over the kidnapping/buddy-comedy. This starts the movie on a terrifyingly dull series of mundane events starring the three lead characters. They go get food and scare some teenage hooligans, they hide Brian from a severely unhinged (I’m guessing) cop (also kind of guessing there) played by Christopher Walken. They go visit Larry’s mom who embarrasses him and obtusely dismisses Ricki’s orientation as a phase that she’ll grow out of. Then they take Ricki’s ex-girlfriend to the hospital when she attempts suicide. This culminates in the film’s attempted laugh-out-loud moment where Larry tries to saw a thumb off a corpse in the morgue with a plastic knife while Brian recites EVERY FUCKING LYRIC of “Baby Got Back.” Later, they mail the thumb to Brian’s brother. I think.
This is all mostly filler in between really filthy monologues and rapport from Affleck and Lopez on the subject of her homosexuality. And by filthy, I don’t mean explicit or obscene. Just really revoltingly and idiotically phrased, like a seventh-grade boy describing a pap smear. This is supposed to be sexual tension, even though she’s gay. It culminates in Affleck hamming it up through a Psyche Yourself Up In The Bathroom Mirror™ moment, and then more disgusting sex talk during a snore-worthy sex scene (both of which make it seem like Affleck and Lopez have never had sex and find each other repugnant). I guess Ricki is a Switch-Hitting Movie Lesbian™. Sorry, last time using that joke.
Anyway, Larry and Ricki get called in to be reprimanded by the Big Boss that we still haven’t met. In walks Al Pacino, doing a sophomoric and reductive impression of Al Pacino. He yo-yos between soft-and-raspy crazy and violent-gutteral-outburst crazy for a solid five minutes. He shoots Larry’s boss in the head and screams at everyone for being so fucking stupid as to kidnap Brian.
So, Larry and Ricki take off to presumably get rid of Brian in a murderous way. Instead they pull over and let him roam away onto a beach, which is being used to shoot a film. This beach scenario seems to hold some special significance because Brian likes “Baywatch” or something. Also, because the score starts to play a thundering “Triumph of the Retard” anthem. Um…the end.
Wow. This movie is…weird. I mean, I expected it to be bad. Rancid. Horrendous. But I guess Affleck and Lopez doing this together at the height of their “Bennifer” powers lured me into a false sense of security, where I figured this would be bad because it would be so mundane and unfunny.
Instead, I think I need to bleach my mind. This movie seems to be a series of fucked up outtakes that went on too long before the director just told them to stop. Affleck talks into a flashlight, reads a pack of Charmin toilet paper, reads a Tabasco bottle, talks to himself in a mirror…he’s just going. Kudos to the director who one-ups Affleck’s unintelligible ramblings by bringing in the big guns of Pacino and Walken.
And Justin Bartha…God bless him. He was trying so hard to be convincing as a mentally handicapped teen, and instead he comes off as a full-grown man acting like a Hollywood-brand retard. And as we all know, a mentally challenged character in a Hollywood movie is instantly funny and noble and endearing, despite the fact that they are capable of being annoying assholes just like the rest of us.
Okay, I need to list out all the contributing factors. Okay. Here we go.
This movie was clearly written in 1996 or 1997. Cell phones only seem to exist when they are convenient (and the character could be classified as rich), the cultural references to Sir-Mix-Alot and Baywatch are ancient, and the whole premise of the movie screams of poor imitation of the en vogue genre in the mid-nineties: crime comedy. Pulp Fiction had just swept the world starring low-life criminals doing terrible things in a blasé tone. Because Tarantino wrote it, it was funny. Get Shorty was an incredibly successful (re: way more accessible, i.e. less filthy) follow-up for both John Travolta and the crime comedy sub-genre in general. It featured slick mobsters cracking wise and cracking skulls outside their element. Oh, just for shiggles (that’s shits and giggles for y’all), let’s also mention that Chasing Amy, a movie featuring Ben Affleck falling in love with a gay woman and forcing himself to explore his pre-conceived notions about sexuality and women, was released in 1997. Huh.
Gigli was clearly an unproduced pretender to this throne, written by a man (clearly) who was either locked in a vault for eight years or so, or wrote it in 1996 with Travolta in mind and couldn’t get it produced until 2003. Oh, it looks like it was written by the director, Martin Brest. Huh.
Wait, WHAT?! Martin Brest is an extremely capable filmmaker. He directed Beverly Hills Cop. Hell, he directed Midnight Run. Oh…before Gigli, he hadn’t written a script since 1979. Wow. Mystery kinda solved…a bit. This also explains (again, kinda) why homosexuality is portrayed as a phase that dovetails with the Eastern philosophy idealism that every college kid comes home from first semester with. It also explains why Larry so easily abducts a DA’s brother right out of an assisted living facility (because back in the day these places were merely repositories for undesirables, and they had no security systems or post 9/11 surveillance).
Okay, next blunder: the casting decisions. We’ll get to the “Bennifer” of it all shortly, but first we have to recognize the absurdity of the supporting cast of Gigli. Justin Bartha should not have been given this role. I like him in other stuff, but here it’s…weird. It’s like Chris O’Donnell in Batman Forever. The part was written for a fifteen-year-old and Bartha is like 22 here. So he was admittedly miscast, and that doesn’t help his grating performance landing thirty yards off from the “noble funny retard” he was written as.
Then we come to Lainie Kazan playing Larry Gigli’s mom. After her big moment as the ethnic mother from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, we get the opportunity to see her as another ethnic mother, but in a pink thong. Because she’s so warm and matronly-looking, the patronizing/homophobic diatribe about how lesbianism is merely a young woman’s phase seemed really out of place coming from her. Maybe they should have gone with someone shrill like Carol Kane who badgers her opinions into our lead characters and makes a big scene. Then we’d know why Larry is so judgmental and misinformed about sex and women.
Oh, and I guess we should talk about Walken and Pacino. Walken’s character has zero purpose, and he clearly only worked on this train wreck for one afternoon. So I guess it’s no wonder that his psychotic rant about Marie Callendar’s pie ended up in the final cut. But I love Walken. What didn’t work here is that Walken never works as a cop. Never. Ever. He should have been Pacino’s character, then he could rant like a maniac and it would explain why he employs such dick-brained people. He’s gone senile. That’s a funny mobster premise. Instead he makes no sense, then leaves.
Pacino, meanwhile, makes tons of sense. He won an Oscar for his scenery-chewing turn as a blind war hero, hoo-ahhing his way through Scent of a Woman, directed by…Martin Brest. So, he owed Brest a solid. And Brest clearly wanted the same insane performance from him. So, that’s that. It still sucks for everyone.
And now we come to Affleck and Lopez. They are both very capable actors. Affleck takes so much shit from people, but he’s actually a moderately gifted actor. And Lopez showed us in Selena, The Money Train, and Jack that she has a certain ability to pretend to be someone else. She’s no chameleon, but there’s a little range. And they were in mad-sweaty-paparazzi-love at the time, which made them ideal romantic foils. But herein lies the rub: Affleck is not a tough guy. That’s one thing he can’t pull off. He can be a meat-head, he can be a loud-mouth mook. But he certainly isn’t tough. He’s too pretty to be tough. So he made little sense as Larry Gigli. Lopez, meanwhile, had cultivated by 2003 a pampered and spoiled brat reputation. So the very idea of her as a tough criminal who only needs her book of Basho and her yoga mat was preposterous. So the issue really isn’t their chemistry (as it is often remembered to be the problem) but their credibility as individual characters. The movie reads less like the two actors were cast as each character and more like the couple was cast as a two-headed stupidity machine.
Now, let me drop an idea here. If Affleck had been cast as the street-smart, spiritual gay criminal and Lopez were cast as the soft-brained ethnic stereotype who must come out of her shell after bonding with both a mentally challenged kid and a guy she wants and cannot have…that’s an interesting movie. But that would involve a male gay character, and this script was written back when The Birdcage was considered progressive. And female gay characters are merely another male fantasy, rather than male gay characters that Hollywood and market research tell us are not popular with the audience.
Last big issue with Gigli is the way this disjointed piece of garbage was marketed to the poor, unsuspecting fuckers who saw it. Back in 2003, if someone told you Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were doing a romantic comedy you would have a certain expectation of sugary dialogue about someone being “the one,” a rising score upon the first kiss, and a possible lesson about how no one is perfect. Or some such shit.
Evidently the marketing department felt the same way, because that was essentially the movie they sold to people. It didn’t help that the title was Gigli, and not something more descriptive like The Meat-Head and the Lesbo or possibly How to Kidnap a 90’s Retard. Gee, it’s as if no one knew how to sell this strange time-warping artifact, so they sold it in the most mundane and nonchalant way possible. As if it would distract away from the egotistical, anachronistic insanity at play when folks actually watched.
Screenplay-Out-of-Time- Writer-director Martin Brest wrote a movie that would have been sub-par and derivative in 1996, but when produced in 2003 comes off as completely removed from logic and possibility. Oh, and not to mention the dialogue comes off as a thirteen-year-old boy’s mentality toward homosexuality, mental disabilities, and criminal lifestyle. Whether this is due to bad writing, bad acting, or bad editing, the basic crafting of the film is rotten due to over-ripening and inferior methods.
An Ill-Fitting Cast- Like a big metaphorical clown-shoe, this cast was so disproportionate and off-kilter that it made the movie instantly recognizable as a blunder. Affleck and Lopez don’t work in these roles, Bartha is out of age-range and over-doing it. Pacino is performing as if the gig is a child’s birthday party (and the child just happens to be the biggest fan of Scent of a Woman on the planet), and Walken…may not have even been cast in this movie. I seriously think he may have wandered onto the set one day.
Ass-Backward Marketing- A bad movie is a bad movie, but usually when advertised we know what a movie is going to be about. We know what type of funny will be attempted, we even usually know the basic story beats of the first half of the movie. With Gigli, no one knew what the hell was going on. So the advertising tried to quietly and inconspicuously slide this feature in with the regulars, like a copy of “Juggs” with your Sunday newspaper. One could argue the attempt to blindside audiences made this movie the legendary pile of waste that it is known as today.
Cause of Death: Screenplay-Out-of-Time
While the weird-ass casting decisions and the laughably clueless salesmanship certainly contributed to how bad this movie is, there’s nothing more apparent than the script problems.
As a matter of fact, the casting issues are very possibly a result of the script issue. When Brest wrote the movie, I’m sure he wasn’t thinking of that fresh-faced young fellow in several Kevin Smith movies. He was probably thinking of John Travolta. Oh, and his choice of Al Pacino makes more sense if you think back to Al Pacino’s career in 1996: he was just cementing himself as a living joke with performances like The Devil’s Advocate and Heat. Really, the extended monologue where Pacino goes fucking ballistic may have been critically praised during that period of his career. Walken…well, I can’t really make that make sense. But Lopez may not have seemed so ridiculous in this role in 1996 or 1997. That was during her Selena and Money Train and Jack years, back when we the audience could accept her as anyone other than “that spoiled fucking pop star who really thinks she’s from the mean streets.” But in 2003, the hilarity of her as Ricki is compounded by how rich and famous she is in real life, and the fact that she’s playing a pseudo-intellectual tough chick from “the block.”
The marketing thing was clearly the distribution company’s knee-jerk reaction to such a terrible movie. After all, you show this piece of crap to a marketing genius circa 2003. Ask him what the sales pitch for watching this is. I betcha he responds, “We could re-edit the movie and start it with a title-card explaining that it’s 1997. Then we get to be the first people to come out with a ‘90s nostalgia comedy.”
Just like I Know Who Killed Me and The Number 23, there’s a strong urge from a collective audience to blame the messenger here. While Carrey and Lohan certainly had their hand in the disasters we’ve previously dissected, I beseech you: don’t blame Affleck. Don’t even blame Lopez.
Blame Martin Brest.
It’s funny. Usually the public blames the most visible suspect in these cases (the actors). I, being a cynical asshole on the internet, am much quicker to blame the studio system for putting monetary success ahead of artistic success. But with Gigli, you can’t do either. This is the rare case where the blame does rest solely on the filmmaker.
Brest wrote this thing, which is extremely incriminating due to how instrumental the script was to this movie’s legendary reputation. He directed it, meaning at any time during production or post-production he could have taken a moment and watched what was happening to this project. He could have stopped it, or at least steered it into a less crazy direction…or even steered it into complete oblivion when he knew it wasn’t working out (this is referred to as “the Gilliam”).
What really seals the deal for Martin Brest as our villain: he’s actually very capable of making decent movies. Nothing amazing, but competent. He may not be capable of writing one, however. And so, like many men before him, he was hoisted by his own retard…
Sorry, that was in poor taste. But somehow, it was more tasteful that anything in Gigli.