Gigli

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Jennifer Lopez’s formidable crossover powers have made her the arguable queen of pop. So with hunk and soon-to-be-husband Ben Affleck, riding on her coattails, Tinseltown marketers probably figured that the world would line up just to watch the couple grocery shop.

But “You just never fuckin’ know,” as Affleck’s titular thug-with-a-heart-of-gold, Larry Gigli (“rhymes with ‘really’”), philosophizes after he’s just threatened a deadbeat with death by coin-operated dryer. Even for fans, paparazzi video of Ben and J.Lo (à la Lopez’s hit MTV clip, “Jenny from the Block”) could be more interesting than long stretches of this hopelessly scatterbrained romantic comedy.

It’s not Lopez’s fault. Her Ricki — a smooth, cool mob enforcer and dedicated lesbian — is the most realized of all of writer-director Martin Brest’s characters. Ricki’s cool comes from the East: She pores over a Buddhist book, subtly intimidates a gang of punks with an almost-whispered lecture on the techniques of kung fu eye-gouging and offers Larry a pro-vagina monologue as she does her evening yoga.

Affleck isn’t as successful with Gigli. His handsome henchman seems like a strained and thin take on one of crime novelist Elmore Leonard’s smooth intimidators, and he falls far short of John Travolta’s benchmark realization of the type as Leonard’s Chili Palmer in the film adaptation of Get Shorty (1995). Brest’s script further undercuts Larry’s cool by playing his machismo for ridiculous (and laughless) comedy.

But Gigli is bad to the bone. Its fundamental flaw is the twisted and broken spine of Brest’s plot. His attempt to set a romantic comedy in the demimonde of crime (like another film adapted from a Leonard novel — and starring Lopez — Out of Sight) is a fiasco. Brest demonstrates little skill in pulling his plot line tight. Larry, Ricki and Brest’s agent of melodrama, Brian (Justin Bartha), their young mentally handicapped kidnap “victim,” become an ad hoc nuclear family with only a couple of too easily solved complications.

Then Brest drops in two cameo opportunities to chew the flavorless scenery with Christopher Walken as a monstrous, shark-eyed cop and Al Pacino (who barely seems to stifle a “hoo hah!” from his character in Brest’s Scent of a Woman) as a histrionic gay mobster almost as sociopathic as Hannibal Lecter.

At a distant eighth in box office receipts for its opening weekend, Gigli is no blockbuster.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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