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Gigli

Year: 2003
Production Co: Revolution Studios
Director: Martin Brest
Writer: Martin Brest
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Bartha, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Linie Kazan

The most interesting thing about this film when you look back on it so long after the notorious reputation it had was that you can see what writer/director Martin Brest wanted to do underneath what's actually on screen.

At the time, the whole Bennifer thing was such an all-pervasive tabloid fixture it overshadowed any chance of success not just that the movie had but the off-screen relationship between stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez as well. And it was somebody's bright idea to capitalise on it all by reframing the whole thing as a love story instead of a crime drama, like Brest evidently wanted.

You can see the remains of the crime thriller it was originally intended to be, especially in the single scene that features Al Pacino as a crime lord and client of the syndicate Gigli (Affleck) is a low level enforcer in – a single appearance that threatens to steal the entire film but the consequences of which are never mentioned again.

When we meet Gigli he's tasked by his abrasive boss (who's strangely only ever shown sitting at outdoor restaurants around LA on the phone – another consequence of a hasty re-edit of the whole thing or just a strange character trope?) with swiping a hostage they mean to use as leverage in a negotiation. It turns out he's the brother of a prosecutor who's gunning for the conviction of Pacino's character in some high profile case.

Gigli's mark, Brian (Justin Bartha) turns out to be a mentally handicapped young man living in a care facility, and when Gigli finally convinces the latter to accompany him quietly, he's told to just keep the guy in his apartment and lay low. A tough talking, slightly Italian wannabe hood like Gigli has no idea how to care for or entertain an intellectually disabled kid, so in what might be the first evidence of studio/producer interference, you know full well the pair are going to grow on each other and become friends (and how much it's going to hurt the ultimately soft-hearted crim when he's told to ditch or kill the boy later).

But a love story breezes into his life when his beautiful neighbour, Rikki (Lopez), knocks on his door. At first she pretends she's there to borrow his phone, but she soon reveals herself to be another operative for his employers, assigned to stay with him and their hostage to make sure he doesn't screw it up.

The big mouthed hero is as angered by the idea he needs to be monitored as he is captured by Rikki's beauty, and the entire midsection of the film turns into his constant and clumsy sexual overtures to someone far smarter and subtler than him (although there's no reason for it to be there, Rikki's monologue about why the vagina is so much more alluring than the penis is brilliantly written), and not much else.

But things eventually have to kick into high gear and the reason they're holding Brian comes to a head, with Gigli, Rikki and their boss having to visit the crime lord who's flown into town to facilitate the plea bargain/deal they're all working on. But even then, the romantic comedy re-edit keeps asserting itself, the story shying away from any real development of the backstory to return to the budding relationships between Gigli and Rikki and Gigli and Brian.

It looked to me like there was a far more complex Ocean's 11-type structure somewhere that was thrown out to amp up the love story. With Midnight Run and Beverly Hills Cop under his belt it's hard to imagine Brest turning out something this ultimately cack handed under his own steam, and when it was all over he supposedly left the industry altogether after what a horrible experience it all was.

It was also the final nail in the coffin of Affleck's first chaotic turn at stardom, one he'd finally rekindle with a newfound respect because of projects like The Town and Argo, and Lopez appeared to flee Hollywood as well, concentrating on her music career.

It's not worth watching because of anything great in the story or performances, but if you want to see how a rightsholder, paymaster or distributor has the power to wrench a project from a director's hands and not just re-edit it but reimagine it in a different genre entirely, it's essential viewing.

Since then it became a poster child for everything a bad movie can be. Affleck's weird Italian hood thing, Rikki's supposedly experienced criminal and gay woman who shows no criminal nous and falls into bed with the brutish Gigli way too easily, the complete lack of chemistry between the two and everything else about it sweeping the Razzies and precipitating the worst second weekend dropoff in history.

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