dir. Brest

Opens Fri Aug 1

Various Theaters

It's tough to play a 'tard. Even Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster (Nell) had a tough time with it. So why do so many movies feature the 'tard? Two reasons: A) Everybody loves the 'tard! And B) "Easy audience manipulation." Take Steven Spielberg, for example. He created the most famous screen retard of all time, E.T. the Extraterrestrial. (Argue if you like, but as far as I'm concerned E.T. will always be the ultimate 'tard.) And since it's so tough to play this type of role, I'm willing to give to Justin Bartha (who plays the 'tard in Gigli) a break. However, I gotta say, when it comes to playing 'tards, Bartha is no E.T.

Why is this so important? Because if you're going to try to manipulate me by putting a 'tard in your movie, then the reason for that 'tard being there had better be damn important. And the main problem with Gigli is that the 'tard's main purpose is to make up for a totally unbelievable premise.

Ben Affleck plays soft-hearted thug Larry Gigli, who's given the task of kidnapping and watching over a 'tard until further notice. But because Gigli is a puss, the boss sends over a lady goombah, Ricki (Jennifer Lopez), to make sure the job is done right. Predictably, Gigli is entranced by Ricki's low-riding hip-huggers--that is, until he learns she's a lesbian. However, Ricki's stubborn sexual resolve is eventually melted by Gigli's charms, and he, she and the 'tard turn into an unlikely family unit.

Okay, for a moment let's put aside this Hollywood fantasy of lesbians jumping ship at the first sight of Ben Affleck's oily love snake. We all agree that's patently ridiculous, and let's never speak of it again. But what's equally ridiculous is Affleck's and J.LO's roles as emotionally sensitive mafiosos. No mob boss in his right mind would hire these two to pick up his dry cleaning, much less kidnap a 'tard. This becomes even clearer when actual tough guys (Al Pacino, Lenny Venito, and the always brilliant Christopher Walken) enter the scene. The emotional distance that Gigli and Ricki have to travel (from bad guy to good guy) is so short, it could've been accomplished in five minutes instead of the two hours we're sitting in the theater. (Jennifer looks reeeeeeeeal nice in those hip-huggers, though.)

As you probably know, Gigli has been beset by awful internet buzz--but the first three-quarters really aren't that bad. And while the last 20 minutes made me want to carve out my eyes with a potato peeler, the performances (especially the cameos) are far too good to be trapped in such a ridiculous story--one so bad even E.T. couldn't save it.