There's a wonderful scene in "Singin' in the Rain" at the sneak preview of a silent film called "The Dueling Cavalier," which features the studio's stars Don Lockwood, played by Gene Kelly, and Lina Lamont, played by the great blonde comedienne Jean Hagen. The picture is a dreadful bomb, saddled with laughable intertitles, grotesque action, and all the worst excesses of the era. As the audience comes out, the stars and the studio executives are standing in the lobby to hear their reactions, which are scathing. One after another, people say, "That's the worst film I ever saw." "I'll never see another Lockwood and Lamont film again," and worse. While everyone in the lobby is cringing, Lina says in her inimitable Brooklyn accent, "I liked it."
Well, in honor of Lina Lamont, while every other critic in town is trashing the movie, I have to say I liked "Gigli." The film has a worthwhile script,* by director Martin Brest ("Beverly Hills Cop," "Midnight Run"), both Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez know their way around a scene, and there are some very good moments. The story is not new, but it takes itself seriously enough that we can pay attention to what's happening on the screen. Affleck is Larry Gigli, an enforcer for his L.A. mob boss Louis (Lenny Venito), who tells him to kidnap Brian (Justin Bartha), the mentally handicapped brother of a federal prosecutor who's after Louis's own boss. Larry does it, and keeps Brian in his apartment. Then Lopez shows up. She's Ricki, also an enforcer and also hired by Louis, to keep an eye on the guys.
Larry is good-looking but dumb, makes plays for Ricki, learns that she has gone both ways but right now is into women - in fact her ex-lover shows up at a bad moment. More immediately, they have young Brian on their hands. We are not told exactly what's wrong but it appears that he's developmentally disabled with a slight case of cerebral palsy. What's interesting is that Larry treats him as exactly what he is, with both impatience and affection. We're not asked to feel sorry for Brian, nor do we get to see a miraculous recovery. He is unselfconscious about himself and his needs, and he becomes the glue that holds the story together.
Louis ratchets up the tension by ordering Larry and Ricki to cut off Brian's thumb and send it to the prosecutor, a deed they cannot bring themselves to do, which leads to a visit from Louis's boss from New York, Starkman (Al Pacino in full mobster drag). I need not tell you how things end, but Brest has made it work without pounding us on the head about love. I realize I'm alone on this one, and you should know that I also kind of liked "Ishtar," so make of it what you will, I must be true to my principles. "Gigli" is not bad at all.
*There is one truly bizarre scene, which must have been put in by J.Lo's agent: We watch her for what appears to be a half hour as she lies on a mat and shows us how she stretches and works every muscle in her body. And we can agree that she is really supple. It's just that it stops the film dead in its tracks.