When I began "My Year Of Flops" six months ago, I had no idea how people would respond. When I tried to explain the project to a friend at the very beginning, we had the following exchange: Friend: So, you're going to be writing about movies that were failures when they originally came out, but now are considered great. Is that it?
Me: Nope, I won't be writing about anything that's widely considered good, let alone great. Friend: Okay, so you'll be writing about movies that didn't do very well initially, but later became big cult films. Is that the idea? Me: Not really. I'm going to be writing about movies that were big critical and commercial disasters initially and don't have much a cult following. Friend: Why on earth are you doing that?
The internet is famously powered by the twin engines of bitterness and contempt, so I worried that the A.V. Club readership would respond like my friend. But readers seemed to understand the project's goals and ground rules immediately. Even more surprisingly, readers seemed genuinely excited and encouraging.
Thanks to the support and readership of big-hearted, failure-loving folks like yourself, My Year Of Flops has been moved from the blogs to the main section of the A.V Club website. If you're new to this feature, I very much encourage you to peruse the My Year Of Flops archive in the A.V Club blog. That should give you a good idea of what this whole wang-dang-doodle is all about.
Basically I'm taking readers through a leisurely stroll of cinema's biggest commercial and critical disasters, with an eye towards singling out unfairly maligned winners (like, say, Joe Versus The Volcano or Ishtar) and great scenes in otherwise middling movies.
So far, I've written about a pee-drinking man-fish (Waterworld), a giant musical starring "Crooning" Clint Eastwood and "Lullaby" Lee Marvin (Paint Your Wagon), Claire Danes clones and floating Ugandans in a surreal dream world of the future (It's All About Love), a he-man woman-hating Nicholas Cage bringing the pain to various lassies and rocking a bear suit (Wicker Man), direct-to-DVD movies starring a skanked-up, crack-smoking Anne Hathaway (Havoc) and Pulitzer-chasing Justin Timberlake (Edison Force), and much, much more. I've been rating these films on a system largely derived, as all good things invariably are, from the opening narration to Elizabethtown.
At the top of the scale lies the Secret Success. These are movies I think are worth checking out despite reputations as the worst thing that ever happened to anybody in America. Then comes the Fiasco. A Fiasco is a disaster of undeniable vision and scope, however muddled or ill conceived. I may not enjoy a Fiasco, but I appreciate their loony conviction and warped integrity. A Failure is the lowest on the totem pole. Failures lack both Secret Success' virtues and Fiascos' lunatic ambition.
So far it's been a wild ride. I'd like to thank all my loyal readers and welcome newcomers into the fold. Please feel free to suggest favorite flops for future entries. I might not respond to your request personally, but I'll definitely take it into consideration. Six months into this project, my passion for seeing giant flops–then writing long, rambling, wildly digressive comic essays about them–is undiminished.
All right, now that my "State Of My Year Of Flops" address is over I can move on to the film I stayed up until 2 a.m. last night watching: 2003's Gigli. Ah, Gigli: say it loud and there's music playing. Say it soft and it's almost like praying. Is there any sweeter word in the pop-culture vernacular than Gigli? It's all beautiful sounds of the world in a single word.
Gigli represented a perfect storm of bad buzz. Beyond a title that instantly thrusted itself into pop-culture infamy, Gigli had the misfortune of pairing Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck as the public was turning on them with a vengeance. Both came with plucky Horatio Alger stories: Affleck was the scrappy kid from Boston who co-wrote an Oscar-winning script when he couldn't catch a break as an actor. Lopez was the Round The Way Girl who rose to the top through hard work, smart choices, and steely ambition. But by the time Gigli came out, each had made the leap from lovable underdog to obnoxiously ubiquitous mega-star. The more Jennifer Lopez sang about being real (on, um, "I'm Real") and staying true to her roots ("Jenny From The Block"), the faker she seemed. It didn't help Affleck that he and partner Matt Damon quickly emerged as the Goofus and Gallant of young Hollywood. Gallant chooses challenging, eclectic roles in movies directed by Martin Scorsese, Paul Greenglass, Anthony Minghella, and Robert De Niro. Goofus says "Blind lawyer super-hero movie from the director of Simon Birch? Sign me up!"
Gigli aside, the nadir of the couple's over-exposure was the video for "Jenny From the Block." The idea was to spoof Lopez and Affleck's tabloid fame and show that the couple had a sense of humor about themselves. Instead it seemed like Lopez and Affleck were taunting the general public with the insane awesomeness of their lives. Affleck and Lopez were just like us, except for being stalked by the paparazzi and having mind-blowing celebrity sex on giant piles of thousand-dollar bills, then calling their famous friends on diamond-encrusted cell phones while riding cryogenically-preserved wooly mammoths the non-famous know nothing about.
So the public wanted to see Affleck and Lopez fail. Big time. They wanted to punish them for their hubris, their careerism, their impeccable bone structure and perfect skin, their unbearable, unforgivable Benniferosity. Then came Gigli. The backlash could be detected from other galaxies.
A woefully miscast Affleck stars as a small-time hood who's all bluster, no bite. He's a big, sleepy pussycat masquerading as a junkyard dog and fooling no one, including himself and his hectoring employer. After a career full of fuck-ups, Affleck is sent to kidnap the mentally retarded brother (Justin Bartha) of a big-time lawyer prosecuting a case against mobster Al Pacino. Since no one trusts Affleck, the bad guys send Jennifer Lopez to make sure he doesn't fuck up. The perpetually smiling, motherly, and nurturing Lopez seems to be toiling in the bottom rungs of the criminal underworld only until she's able to find employment in a field more suited to her temperament and personality, like, say, teaching pre-school or nursing sick kittens back to health.
For the film's interminably "playful" first hour, Lopez and Affleck flirt, banter, and bicker while baby-sitting a disabled kid whose greatest desire to "Go to the Baywatch." (Yes, the poor kid labors under the delusion that Baywatch is a real place, not fictional masturbatory fodder.) Depending on the scene, this fixation on "going to the Baywatch" cause "that's where the sex is" and features women who make Bartha's penis "sneeze" is played for laughs or pathos. The soaring music that plays whenever Bartha talks dreamily about "going to the Baywatch" indicates that there's apparently something noble, heartwarming, and inspirational about a retarded man wanting to have sex with pneumatic floozies.
When Affleck tries to seduce Lopez, she curtly informs him: "You know, this may be a good time to suggest that you not allow the seeds of cruel hope to sprout in your soul," which is a very long-winded way of indicating that she's a lesbian, at least until Affleck wears down her defenses through sheer persistence and elaborate farmyard-themed metaphors about male-female relationships. In Gigli, nobody uses a simple, plausible word when a five-dollar, wildly implausible word will suffice. After a solid hour of mannered, overwritten banter, something finally happens: Lopez's ex (Missy Crider) shows up, angrily proposes a threesome with Lopez and Affleck, then slashes her wrist in a half-hearted suicide attempt.
The good times come to an abrupt end when Lopez and Affleck are ordered to cut off Bartha's thumb and mail it to Pacino. Instead, Affleck and Lopez sneak into a morgue and cut off the thumb of a dead man while Bartha favors everyone to an a capella rendition of "Baby Got Back". I am not making this shit up. Pacino isn't satisfied, so during the film's wildly anti-climactic climax, he murders Affleck's boss solely to punctuate a long, rambling monologue, delivered at the ear-splitting volume, which ends in him inexplicably letting Affleck and Lopez go unharmed when they promise to kill Bartha.
The mile-wide sentimental streak coursing through Gigli reaches a wonderful/horrible apex when Bartha spies the filming of a beach show he deliriously identifies as his fabled "Baywatch" come to vivid, three-dimensional life. In keeping with the film's commitment to realism, nobody seems to notice the incongruity of a fully clothed retarded man mixing and mingling among scantily clad beach partiers. Writer-director Martin Brest honestly seems to think audiences will tear up at the prospect of this boob-obsessed kid getting it on with a random beach skank while Affleck looks on with paternal pride while bathed in golden light. Small-time crook or living saint? It's a tough call.
Gigli is essentially three terrible films crashing into each other and toppling over like defective bumper cars at a cut-rate carnival. It's a post-Tarantino crime comedy filled with hyper-stylized dialogue, gratuitous profanity, and flashy monologues. It's a romantic comedy about a mismatched couple that falls for each other while jointly facing a series of obstacles, and it's a hopelessly maudlin would-be heart-warmer about a noble disabled man whose desire to fondle giant fake boobies brings out the best in his makeshift family
I think Gigli is most palatable as a stylized comic fantasy infused with the cockeyed romanticism of a really bad Alan Rudolph movie. Viewed in that context, the fact that Gigli centers on a pair of career criminals apparently incapable of doing anything more transgressive or destructive than jay-walking is almost charming. Almost.
A recurring theme in this project has been Hollywood's unwillingness to learn from past mistakes. After Gigli and Jersey Girl, however, Lopez has clearly learned the dangers of combining her professional and love lives. I should know. This afternoon, I'm scheduled to watch/review El Cantante, an ambitious, Lopez-produced biopic that co-stars Lopez's real-life spouse Marc Anthony as her onscreen husband. Now is obviously the perfect time to allow the seeds of cruel hope to sprout in my soul.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Fiasco