In case you hadn't heard, no one likes Gigli. Until its release, this offbeat love story, which is pronounced "Jeely", was most famous for bringing together Hollywood couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez but bad word of mouth started spreading months before its US opening date and, when it finally came out, it received a fearful pounding from critics and an even nastier fate at the box office. A search on the internet reveals that, according to Rotten Tomatoes, only 7% of critics liked it: out of 139 reviews surveyed, 10 are positive. The Internet Movie Database goes further. According to their voters, it's the worst movie of all time. That's right, the worst film ever. Worse than Tomcats. Worse than Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. Worse than Plan Nine From Outer Space.
There must be something very wrong with me then because I liked the film. Seriously. I found it to be a pleasing if not exceptional blend of comedy, romance and crime drama. Looking back at the dozen or so other films I've seen in September, a poor month which has included some real abominations like Blackball and The Sin Eater, I discover that Gigli is among the best. It's well acted, well directed and has a nice, quirky script. It's the screenplay, director Martin Brest's first since Going In Style in 1979, that's come in for the hardest kicking. Reviewers have cited Jennifer Lopez's monologue about her vagina as a low point. I beg to differ - I enjoyed the scene. The dialogue's funny and watching Ms Lopez perform aerobics while talking about her private parts is not too unpleasant a task. Lopez and Affleck took a lot of personal criticism too, again unfairly in my opinion. There have been few couples as high profile as "Ben & Jen" and the cynic in me wonders whether Gigli would have been treated anywhere near as harshly had its stars' relationship not been on the cover of every newspaper and magazine.
The plot: Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck) is a low-level LA mob enforcer who's a little too soft-hearted for the line of work he's in. His latest assignment is to kidnap and hold hostage an autistic young man (Justin Bartha) whose brother is supposedly making life difficult for a New York mob boss. Picking the kid up from his institution is easy and Larry takes him back to his apartment, expecting a simple babysitting job. Then the doorbell rings and in walks Ricki (Jennifer Lopez). She's a female contractor in the same business as Larry and she's been hired to make sure there are no screw-ups. This pisses Larry off but spending a few days with a beautiful woman has its upside - that is, until she informs him she's gay.
Still, the pair are stuck with each other so they have no choice but to try to get along. It turns out neither of them is as tough as they first appear. Ricki is something of a poet and philosopher and is being stalked by her heartbroken ex-girlfriend. Larry is regretting his career choice and his lonely life. The only person who cares about him is his doting mother (Lainie Kazan). During their time together, they develop a grudging affection for each other and for Brian, their hostage, who underneath his tics and neuroses is an uncommonly sweet kid. Unfortunately, time is running out for this odd little family. What Larry and Ricki didn't know is that Brian's brother is a federal prosecutor, the boy's the subject of a manhunt and the mob have some very cold-hearted plans for him.
Martin Brest is a great director of characters and relationships, having made the buddy movies Midnight Run and Scent of A Woman as well as the original Beverly Hills Cop. This time he's made a three-hander. Most of the film is devoted to the three leads, although there are fun cameos by Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Lainie Kazan, each of whom is allowed one memorable scene. Ben Affleck does a decent job of playing a mafia goombah who's not the brightest guy on the planet but knows right from wrong and is tired of crossing the line. Maybe he's not the first actor you'd think of for this role but he's fine and I liked the guy. Jennifer Lopez however is terrific. This is the first time she's looked like a real movie star since Out Of Sight. In fact this is the first time she's looked alive onscreen since Out Of Sight. After watching her sleepwalk through Maid In Manhattan and The Wedding Planner, I'd all but given up on her as a credible actress but here she is, as vibrant as ever. She even survives sharing a scene with Al Pacino in full scenery-chewing ham mode. Newcomer Justin Bartha is also impressive and adds a surprising amount of emotion to the final scenes.
Gigli is certainly imperfect, though its flaws are nowhere near as crippling as its detractors are saying. It's definitely too long at slightly over two hours. That's not to say it's as achingly drawn out as Martin Brest's last film, Meet Joe Black, just that, like many films, it could have lost some flab around the middle. Also like the Brad Pitt film, it's a little too sentimental and too quick to ladel syrupy music over scenes that don't require it. The quirky humour at times seems a bit too studied, a bit too self-consciously Tarantino, especially the business with the fish tank. Larry and Ricki are not, it's fair to say, the most convincing gangsters in cinema history. And after Chasing Amy, Ben Affleck should have been wary of accepting another role in which he converts a lesbian to heterosexuality. At least Gigli undercuts that conceit by having Ricki tease Larry that it's his femininity that appeals to her.
Would I recommend you spend your hard earned money on a ticket to Gigli? I don't know. While I don't regret handing over my fiver, it's more of a night in than a night out. You probably won't get much chance to see it in cinemas anyway - it's only getting a token release in the UK and seems unlikely to last more than a week in most engagements. When it comes to video and DVD however, it's well worth a rent and viewing with an open mind. There have been other good reviews - Roger Ebert's defended it - and at the showing I went to, other people were laughing. The more I think about it, the more ludicrous that IMDB ranking appears. I've seen a hell of a lot of movies this year which hold more convincing claims on the title "worst movie of all time" than this one.