|Ben & J-Lo: As bad as it gets|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
I once stood several hours shivering in the sub-zero cold of a Norwegian winter just so I could watch Tonya Harding drive up in a car, get out of her seat, wave to reporters and walk into a building.
I once sat in Andy MacPhail's office listening to Chuck Knoblauch tell the general manager that he wasn't going to talk to me anymore because I had made fun of his cowlick three years earlier. I had then-Governor Jesse Ventura tower over me, poke his finger at my chest and angrily shout at me because I made an indiscreet comment about his waistline.
I had the Chicken call up my editor and demand a retraction. I had comedian Bill Murray call my editor and demand my dismissal. I had former third baseman Mike Pagliarulo speak to me personally and demand my departure from this life.
So, I've had my share of embarrassing, uncomfortable and just plain unpleasant moments in my sports writing career. But the most humiliating moment by far took place this week when I spoke the phrase that every reporter dreads. The memory of it makes me cringe.
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"Gigli" has already been placed among the worst movies ever made, joining such recent garbage as "Glitter," "Showgirls" and "The 2000 World Series Highlight Video." It took in just $3.6 million its first weekend, which is an embarrassing amount, in that it means about a half-million people actually went to the theater and bought tickets.
Now, before I get into the review of "Gigli," let me go off on a rant. Does anyone else HATE those weekly box office receipt figures as much as I do? What difference does it possibly make? Who cares what a movie earned other than the Hollywood suits who green-lighted it? And even if someone does care, wouldn't the important figure be how many tickets a movie sold, not how much money viewers paid for them? This is simply a measure of inflation, not popularity. Obviously, "Harry Potter" had higher box office receipts than "Star Wars." Ticket price are two to three times higher.
I mean, really. This is like awarding the batting crown to the player who has the most at-bats.
Anyway, back to the subject. What makes a bad movie truly bad? I mean so bad that it ranks among the worst ever?
Well, obviously, a flimsy plot, unrealistic dialogue, poor acting, clumsy directing and inferior special effects all play a part. And it also helps if Kevin Costner is listed as an actor/director/producer. But for a bad movie to be singled out for its badness, it must also aspire to something higher. It must reach far beyond its grasp and fail miserably.
So does the very bad "Gigli" fall into the category of the truly bad? Let's take a look. I assume none of you are ever going to see it, so here's the basic plot.
Ben Affleck plays Gigli (rhymes with Really), an enforcer for a gangster. The gangster orders Affleck to kidnap a federal prosecutor's teenage brother, who is either autistic or retarded, or perhaps just lacks confidence around women, the movie is never quite sure. Anyway, Affleck kidnaps this Rain Man-lite with the aim of persuading the prosecutor to drop all charges against the gangster's boss, played by Al Pacino. This is such a stupid plan that Pacino (in a brief cameo) actually delivers a monologue explaining how stupid it is.
But before that happens, the gangster also hires J-Lo, a mob fixer, to babysit Affleck and make sure he doesn't screw up this incredibly stupid plan. She is -- and this is a crucial plot point -- a lesbian who nurtures everyone she meets with new-age spiritualism and yoga.
Naturally, Ben and J-Lo fall for each other and wind up loving the kid, who (what a coincidence!) loves them in return. And in the end, they drop the teenager on the set of "Baywatch" (I'm not making that up) and drive up the coast together.
Except I'm leaving out the scene where Christopher Walken walks in and starts raving about burying his face in a berry pie at Marie Callender's. MMMMMMFFFFF!!!! And the scene where J-Lo performs yoga and explains why the vagina is more desirable than the penis. And the scene where Pacino abruptly shoots the gangster in the head and turns the gun on J-Lo and Affleck, at which point I was wishing he would either shoot them in the head to end the movie or shoot me in the head to end my misery.
And there are some ridiculous scenes, too.
The movie also suffers from a significant lack of chemistry between its two stars. Jason Kidd and Byron Scott have a warmer relationship than Ben and J-Lo do in "Gigli." If these two ever get married -- and I don't think for a minute that they will -- I suspect that Ben will spend the honeymoon just like Johnny Bench did, playing ping pong while J-Lo keeps calling Puffy Combs and asking if he's busy.
Now, I'm not much of a J-Lo fan, but I will grant you that she is talented and usually entertaining. But you never for a second believe she is a mob enforcer capable of violence. And that whole yoga scene is just so unbelievably embarrassing and unspeakably uncomfortable that you can't imagine anything ever being worse on the screen.
Or at least, not until Affleck delivers another piece of dialogue.
His Gigli is a very complicated character which requires a performance of nuance. He has to appear both despicable and endearing, intimidating and vulnerable, uneducated and intelligent, efficient and clumsy. It's a tough act, but not impossible, and I could see a quality actor, Sean Penn perhaps, pulling it off. But Affleck didn't have a chance. It's like a last inning, Game 7 at-bat with the bases loaded, your team trailing and Randy Johnson on the mound. But instead of Barry Bonds at the plate, you send up Lou Merloni.
I mention Merloni because Affleck is a Red Sox fan and he caused a bit of a stir last season when he went on a broadcast and ripped Merloni's poor batting average. Now, Merloni is not a good player. He has 10 home runs in seven seasons. The Red Sox let him go in March after he hit .200 in spring training. He has seven hits the past two months.
And Affleck can only wish he was as good at his profession as Merloni is at his. Forget "Project Greenlight." What we need is for someone to "Project Redlight" his career.
The only saving grace is that he isn't being talked about for an Oscar, the way Jim Carrey was for "The Majestic," which was so bad that a friend still holds it against me for making him go see it two years ago against our better judgment.
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In the end, "Gigli'' is very, very bad the way the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are very, very bad. But not quite "historic, this-must-be-seen-to-be-believed bad' like the 1962 Mets or the 2003 Tigers. I've seen plenty of movies this summer alone that are nearly as bad as "Gigli" and some that are worse. And I haven't even seen "The Matrix Reloaded" or "Legally Blonde 2."
I mean, when I went to the theater for "Gigli," my other choices were a movie based on a comic book, a movie based on a video game and a movie based on an amusement park ride. We're not talking 1939 and "Wizard of Oz," "Gone With the Wind," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Stagecoach" and "Wuthering Heights."
So why is "Gigli" being singled out for special criticism? Because it stars America's super couple, J-Lo and Ben. These two can't eat a bowl of cereal without posing for Annie Liebovitz first, so when they hype a movie and talk about falling in love on the set and discuss remaking "Casablanca," they deserve abuse when the movie doesn't deliver. (Actually, when they talk about re-making "Casablanca," they deserve to be buried up to their necks in sand in the Moroccan desert and forced to repeatedly watch "Maid in Manhattan" but you get the drift.)
Consider this analogy. The Brewers are in last place and have a worse record than the Mets, but you don't read nearly as many stories mocking Milwaukee as you do New York. That's because nobody expected the Brewers to win many games. But with the second-highest payroll in baseball, the Mets were supposed to be good. With that much money, they should be good.
Like the Mets, J-Lo and Ben wanted to be taken seriously. Like the Mets, they instead delivered a miserable, laughable product.
But at least this season will end for the Mets in September. J-Lo and Ben, meanwhile, will be back with another movie in October.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.