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Left to right: Real-life lovebirds Jennifer Lopez and Ben Afflect star in the stunningly stupid film, Gigli. Courtesy photo.
Gigli
Dir. Martin Brest; writ. Brest; feat. Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Bartha, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Lainie Kazan (R)

It's pronounced "G-lee," like "really." Like really, really bad. But, as in most bad films with A-list actors (c'mon, what the hell were Walken and Pacino thinking?), marketing agencies manage to glean some out-of-context goodness from even the worst reviews. This is the Current's contribution to that malarky. (A couple of suggested blurbs are in quotes - please append exclamation marks where necessary.)

B. Lo plays the title character, Gigli, a contract thug hired to kidnap the younger, "mentally challenged" brother of a powerful federal prosecutor. Gigli is your typical low-life tough guy, an egotistical strong-arm with no friends and even fewer social graces.

Enter Ricki (J. Lo), Gigli's coolly charismatic counterpart, sent in to monitor the inept goon's handle on the situation. She is "sexy and savvy," and despite his chauvinist resentment toward having a chick sent to check up on him, Gigli doesn't pass up the opportunity to try and get some. But the badgirl is a lipstick lesbian, and Gigli isn't exactly her type.

Predictably, in the end, the two enjoy what Lopez' character crassly refers to as "turkey day" ("gobble, gobble"), and the conversion is complete: The goon's menace is lost in love, the two botch the assignment, and the movie ends as badly as it began.

Aside from "generous shots of J. Lo's perfect, scantily clad body," director Martin Brest relies heavily on "sensational" scenes of the autistic teenage kid being well ... autistic. You know, doing a "funny" composite of things: cussing uncontrollably, talking about his penis, dancing, or doing his own slow, stumbling rendition of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back."

Gigli doesn't follow anything through the entire plot. Take the title, for example: No one - including audiences - knows the correct pronunciation. What looked to be the beginning of an ongoing joke and suitable metaphor - mispronouncing Gigli as "giggly" and undermining the two-bit thug - didn't make it past the first few scenes. Walken's role as a wary detective amounts to a mere cameo appearance, over-exposition with no suspicious follow-through. Even the retarded kid loses his Tourette's Syndrome and his mentally challenged charm mid-movie.

Gigli is less of a "gobble, gobble" and more of a "sucky suck."

But don't quote us on that. •

Wendi Kimura

American Wedding
Dir. Jesse Dylan; writ. Adam Herz; feat. Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Eugene Levy (R)

Proving that it is possible for a movie series' characters to mature independent of the series itself, American Wedding gives us characters old enough for matrimony in a flick more juvenile than American Pie. The awkward, hanging-on feeling is apparent in the first scene Jim (Biggs) shares with his old buddies, characters who seem to be here simply because (unlike Pie alums Mena Suvari, Chris Klein, et al) they haven't found better gigs in other movies; from here on, things are as familiar as reheated cafeteria casserole.

Jim has decided to marry the flute-fornicating Michelle. Proposing marriage in a public place may be hard to pull off, but surely it's harder to louse it up as completely as Jim does here; five minutes into the movie, he has forgotten the ring, spoiled the surprise, and found himself pantless in the middle of a crowded restaurant. With Dad standing by, of course. Michelle being Michelle, though, she still says yes, in a misty-eyed moment that is bookended by sex-organ jokes. The scene is a stiff exaggeration of the first film's easy blend of gross-out humor and honest warmth. Like the second installment, this one beats the formula over the head, although this time around the strain to one-up the latest embarrassing scenario is impossible to hide.

As a result, we get episodes as extreme (if polished up for multiplex consumption) as early John Waters routines: feces-chomping, grandma-humping gross-out scenarios, where if no character here actually screws a pooch, he at least gets to second base. Most of these predicaments somehow involve Scott's Steve Stifler, who easily walks away with the movie. Where the rest of the cast looks vaguely ashamed to be stuck in adolescence, Stifler wallows in it; his love of the debauched is so hard-wired he will occasionally speak of sex toys with the wide-eyed wonder of a toddler waiting for Santa. Scott gets almost all of the movie's laughs, even if the filmmakers don't give him material matching his anarcho-hedonistic talents.

But getting caught with a dog's face in your crotch isn't quite as funny if there's no possibility of fallout. In American Wedding, no scenario, however humiliating, threatens the viewer's belief that the final "I do" moment will come off without a hitch. The world outside of high school is an unpredictable place, and the routine zaniness of American Pie just doesn't live up to it. •

John DeFore

Northfork
Dir. Michael Polish; writ. Mark & Michael Polish; feat. James Woods, Nick Nolte, Duel Farnes, Mark Polish, Daryl Hannah, Anthony Edwards (PG-13)

Northfork, Montana, isn't a real town - and if it were, it wouldn't be there any more. It would be a ruin buried beneath millions of gallons of water, the ghost-filled bottom of a man-made lake created by a dam built by the New Deal.

Northfork, which imagines the last 48 hours in the life of that town, isn't a real story - and to many viewers, won't seem like much of a movie. It's a strange, gray requiem for a slice of the American dream that isn't quite articulated but reverberates through the film like thunder beyond the horizon.

The third in a series of "heartland films" made by identical twins Mark and Michael Polish, Northfork is characterized by the emotional reserve and wariness many associate with the wide flatlands in the middle of the country; although it deals with heart-tugging issues like death, memory, and displacement, Northfork doesn't entirely seem to trust the viewer. While the result is often beautiful to the point of being startling, it is never completely moving.

The filmmakers are trying to create a Midwest version of magical realism. If that feels oxymoronic, their solution is ideal. It isn't immediately apparent, but anything truly supernatural here happens in a dream. A sickly orphan boy has been returned to the care of the town priest (Nolte), and as he convalesces, he imagines four bizarre wingless angels who treat him like a rare specimen.

The recurrent angel theme is a little precious here; the brothers are more at ease with the picture's other side. Three pairs of men, clad in black and driving shiny new Fords, are combing the region for families who have not yet evacuated their soon-to-be-flooded homes. They encounter difficulties both comic and life-threatening, and although they are willing participants, they also have their regrets about leaving the land behind.

Michael Polish gives us reason to love the land, too. He shows us the stark beauty of the land, but as a natural elegist he also captures the beauty of departing. Although shot in color, nearly everything in the frame is gray, as if the life had slowly drained from the town as its inhabitants moved to higher ground. Of the few buildings left, many are chopped up for transport, including a one-room church that is missing a back wall; in the film's most striking image, Father Nolte stands at the pulpit delivering his sermon with nothing behind him but vast fields and grazing cows. More than any talk of angels, this vision connects the human and earthly to the divine, and allows the priest to eulogize the land just as if it were a member of his church laid out in an open coffin. Northfork may be a problematic, oddly stoic bit of filmmaking, but it's as haunting as a ghost town sitting silently beneath a lake full of oblivious water-skiers. •

John DeFore


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