This month, Ben Affleck has garnered tremendous acclaim for Argo, his third feature as a director. He also stars in the movie that many have cited as an Oscar contender. Back in 2003, Affleck's career was in a much different place. He earned great success with Good Will Hunting, Armageddon, and others, but he'd entered a series of disappointments. Affleck had starred in the poorly received comic book vehicle Daredevil one year earlier and was set to appear in Paycheck later that year. In the middle of these gems was the Martin Brest "comedy" Gigli, which quickly earned a reputation for being terrible. In fact, it ended up winning the Razzie Award for the worst comedy in their first 25 years. Another nail in its coffin was the box-office response, which was disastrous. Nearly 10 years later, this film remains one of the most well-known flops of all time.
What's this story about?
Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck) is a hoodlum who's tasked with kidnapping the mentally disabled brother of a district attorney. His boss Louis (Lenny Venito) isn't that confident in Larry's abilities, so he hires a second contractor. That choice is Ricky (Jennifer Lopez), an attractive woman who immediately draws Larry's eye. What he doesn't know is that she's a lesbian and has little interest in the brutish guy. They clash while watching Brian (Justin Bartha), who doesn't realize anything nefarious is happening. Larry may be a criminal, but he doesn't seem to have the right level of cruelty to thrive in this world. When Louis wants to raise the stakes, the next steps might be too much for Larry and Ricky to handle.
How bad was the box office? What factors were involved in the failure?
The crazy part of Gigli's poor results is trying to figure out why the budget was so high. IMDB lists the production costs as $54 million, and other reports put it even higher. That's just way too much money for what's essentially a small-scale character piece. The main culprit in this amount is the necessity of paying two high-priced stars. Both Affleck and Lopez earned more than $12 million for their parts, which is just highway robbery. Even when you include worldwide numbers, the box office was only $7.2 million. Terrible word of mouth and negative reviews killed any chances for success. Even before the release, the reputation was so low that the poor response just confirmed suspicions. Another factor was the off-screen romance between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. People hated this relationship and both stars, so even a mediocre film had little chance. Finally, the worst offender is the title, which is just awful. If a computer was trying to predict a movie title that would fit correctly on a disaster, there isn't a better choice than Gigli.
Looking at it today, what aspects of this movie really don't work?
This is one of those movies that's obviously terrible right from the start. Affleck is just awful as the doofus who we're supposed to like. He talks like a wannabe gangster who's watched too much Goodfellas and The Sopranos. The next issue is the ongoing gags that fall flat yet reappear frequently. Brian is mentally disabled and it obsessed with "the Baywatch". Brilliant! Larry doesn't have any books at home, so he's forced to read ingredients from household items to Brian. Ricky is a lesbian, but she loves tormenting Larry and even goes into a long monologue about her anatomy. There are so many painful elements that it's impossible to cover them all. In general, the dialogue is so tone-deaf that it completely misjudges what works for an audience. Martin Brest directed Scent of a Woman, Midnight Run, and Beverly Hills Cop. It's important to note that he didn't write those films, however. He's trying to be witty and profane, but he ends up just crafting statements that no actor could say believably. When Al Pacino can't sell the material, you know that it doesn't work.
Are there parts of this movie that actually work?
This is a tough question because there are so few things to like about Gigli. I could write several thousand words about its problems, but finding something good isn't so easy. His character is poorly written, but Justin Bartha does his best to make Brian endearing. Compared to the grating performances from Affleck and Lopez, I'd much rather hang out with him. Christopher Walken also seems to find the right tone, but he only has one brief scene. I expect he had a larger part before the changes that happened just prior to the release. It's a strange thing to say, but Walken takes a subtle approach that allows the scene to breathe. When Affleck is screaming at everyone, it's like nails on a chalkboard. Honestly, this is all I have on the positives. You should avoid this movie at all costs.
What are some of the most memorable scenes?
There are several painful moments where Larry is trying to seduce Ricky that fall really flat. They're designed for comedy (he doesn't know she's a lesbian!), but they're just annoying instead. The problem is that Affleck and Lopez have no chemistry on screen. They might have been a hot couple away from the camera, but their interactions are awkward here. I also have to mention the arrival of Ricky's ex-girlfriend Robin (Missy Crider), who shows up and then immediately slits her wrists. The act comes out of nowhere and should be shocking, but it's really just weird. This does give Larry the chance to commandeer a thumb from a cadaver, which he amazingly cuts off with a plastic knife. Another odd scene is Al Pacino's random appearance as Starkman. He gets the chance to play big "AL PACINO" and give a speech before dealing out a surprise act of violence. I have to expect this role was payback to Martin Brest for Scent of a Woman, but it's also possible that Pacino's other scenes were cut. Either way, it's a goofy moment that doesn't work. By that point, we're just ready to bail and get to the credits.
In his book My Year of Flops, Nathan Rabin rated each movie as a Failure, Fiasco, or Secret Success. Using that system, where would I rate this flop?
Gigli is a failure that has been correctly maligned. Words can't describe just how awkward this movie really is. Affleck and Lopez are terrible, but most of the problem falls with the script. The fact that the running time is two hours just compounds the issues. There is no way this story needed to be that long! There was barely enough material to fill half that time. I'm not sure it would have mattered, though. This isn't the case where a few cuts and script adjustments would have saved the day. It's no surprise that Martin Brest's career ended after this release. While I usually don't mind checking out bad movies, this one is such a disaster that the experience was painful. The definitive rating for this mess is Failure. Even if you're interested in this type of film, I'd seek your fun elsewhere.
Next week, I'll grow my dreadlocks and bond with John Travolta on Battlefield Earth.