You know you're in trouble when the terse ironically un-ironic supplementary notes are introduced hogging up half the screen--the cheapest way literally and figuratively to help tell a story. Then we get into the meat of the movie. Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) meets and is subsequently blackmailed by a struggling filmmaker (Jesse Bradford) who claims to know the whereabouts of her 20-year-old estranged son; Charley (Steve Coogan) and his boyfriend Gil (David Sutcliffe) think that their best friends Pam (Laura Dern) and her girlfriend Diane (Sarah Clarke) are lying about using Gil's sperm; and Otis (Jason Ritter) a young gay man tries to stave off the suspicions of his father (Tom Arnold) by "dating" the neighborhood leech Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal) only to find out that she's really after his father's money. Whew! And just when you think each "separate" story can't get any more convoluted tangential sub-stories emerge. Plus you've got those notes that keep popping up telling the audience how to feel. We will begrudgingly resist the obligatory--and in this case not-so-friendly--play on words the title invites.
To Happy Endings' credit the acting is quite good. In fact it's the film's saving grace and perhaps its only redeeming quality. Kudrow--doing nothing to dispel the theory that the only post-Friends cast member getting any legitimate film offers is Jennifer Aniston--at least turns in another fine dramatic performance as the hard-luck Mamie. Coogan (Around the World in 80 Days) proves himself incapable of bad work with his take as a modern-day cynic. Gyllenhaal although still stellar with her enigmatic sultry trademark (not to mention the eyes) might be moving dangerously close to being typecast as the sexual deviant she started in Secretary (not that we're complaining). Ritter son of the late John Ritter is surprisingly strong as a conflicted teenager torn between his father's expectations and his own while Bradford (Swimfan) quickly becoming a veritable indie veteran gives a powerful performance as the ambiguous filmmaker (an unintentional running theme throughout). But the breakout performance oddly enough comes from Arnold. The actor who is most often associated with belligerence and baaaadcomedies as well as the whole Roseanne saga plays it down considerably as Frank a long-suffering widower and single parent who has too much money and not enough love. He'll the surprise the dozens who will turn out to see the film.
Writer-director Don Roos has had his hand in nine feature films now--mostly as a writer--but is most revered for writing and directing 1998 critically acclaimed dark comedy The Opposite of Sex. Those stellar subtle techniques he displayed in Sex however are hard to spot in Happy Endings. Clearly Roos has a penchant for complex storylines but more isn't always better. Trying to bring together such stories tenuous to begin with by way of mere coincidence doesn't work. The use of the split-screen "addendums"--so to speak--that pop up throughout the film are a collective cop-out. They distract detract and alienate audiences more so than even subtitles because the tidbits are stream-of-consciousness. Plus they reveal integral pieces of information with a certain unsuccessful flamboyance. This technique is usually only used on the most rudimentary filmmaking/screenwriting level. And with all of the script's vigorous efforts trying to remove us so far from the inevitable the end is still incredibly anti-climactic and predictable.
Let's just get through Gigli's plot so we can move on to the fun stuff. A lowly hit man Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck) is hired to kidnap the mentally handicapped little brother (Justin Bartha) of a federal prosecutor for Mob purposes. A second hitperson the comely independent-minded Ricki (Jennifer Lopez) is also put on the case because Gigli can't be trusted to do the job correctly. Holed up in Gigli's apartment the duo clashes at first but gradually form a bond even though Gigli is a chauvinistic jughead and Ricki a tough-nut lesbian. Of course they also form an attachment to their quarry Brian who in his untainted innocence manages to change these two hardened individuals. Now that's over with here's just a sampling of some of the deep and meaningful dialogue that passes between these two lovebirds: Says Gigli: "I am the bull and you are the cow…f**k with the bull you get the horn." Gigli to Ricki: "I'm the Sultan of Slick…the original gangster's gangster." Ricki to Gigli: "You know this might be a good time to suggest you not allow the seeds of cruel hope to sprout in your soul." Then later more from Ricki: "The penis is a sea slug or more like a really long toe. But kissing the mouth…The mouth--the lips the warm moist hole--is a twin sister to the…" Well you get the picture. Even Brian gets in a good one when he chirps spastically "It's not my fault I'm brain damaged!" Can it get any better than this?
Ben Jen what were you thinking? On second thought don't answer that--we'd probably rather not know. This is one time when watching two huge celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck fall in love is more cringe-worthy than romantic in any way. Imagine if you will Lopez as Ricki who having succumbed to Gigli's er charm sprawls herself seductively on the bed in a little kimono robe and tells him "It's turkey time. Gobble gobble"--with a straight face. Or how about this one: "You know I'm not into the whole man thing…but somehow you got through." (Insert audible collective audience groan here). Affleck who stands around looking like he's been hit in the face with a frying pan most of the time--of course without ever mussing his hair--comes off looking even worse if that's possible. His accent fluctuates between that of a Brooklyn thug and Southern California surfer dude. As far as how some of the high-profile cameos in the film got there--including Christopher Walken as a quirky cop and Al Pacino as a mobster who gets to vent in his usual boisterous way--obviously some favors must have been called in. Pacino did win his only Oscar for his performance in Scent of a Woman helmed by Gigli's director Martin Brest. Maybe they all deserve more credit for enduring such utterly banal garbage.
Writer/director Brest has had a spotty career at best. Of a handful of movies he's had a hit here and there (Beverly Hills Cop) and a few failures (Meet Joe Black). But with Gigli the filmmaker reaches the bottom rung. He took big names thrown them in a big-budget crime drama that really wants to be a small talky indie and the end result is more like a really bad play in which all the characters give their own over-the-top soliloquies waxing prophetic about every subject under the sun--differences between males and females being gay vs. straight anger management retardation slopping pie on one's head (believe it). Granted on some level Brest is trying to think out of the box within a formulaic setting and in all honesty Gigli's premise isn't all that dreadful--just hacky. There may have been a somewhat decent movie hidden somewhere in Gigli--enough of movie at least to attract Lopez and Affleck (whose romance began on the shoot). Instead it's a discombobulated jumbled mess of incoherent musings and horrible dialogue that moviegoers just shouldn't be subjected to. We wonder if at this very moment J. Lo isn't saying to her future hubby "Let's not do this again"--but wait they are in Kevin Smith's Jersey Girls. We don't want to know what he's saying.
HOLLYWOOD, May 17, 2000 - All right, here's the scoop: Mutants walk among us. But not to worry, a hard-line, true-blue U.S. senator is working to save America from these genetically impure subhumans. Heck, he's even come up with ways to help you identify mutants in your midst, and if you suspect your milkman or co-worker, you can report them to the proper authorities. Say what?
Oh, yeah, we forgot to mention it's all a (very clever) satirical campaign to promote Fox's upcoming "X-Men" movie, which opens July 14 and stars Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Halle Berry.
The Mutant Watch Initiative (www.mutantwatch.com) sprang up on the Web last week. Corresponding TV commercials in which Sen. Kelly (as played by Bruce Davison) spews bellicose campaign rhetoric against mutants and asks voters to support his vision of a "genetically cleaner" America also began appearing.
Sen. Kelly (Bruce Davison) (In case you're not familiar with Marvel's "X-Men" comic, the titular heroes are mutants who use their powers for good, as opposed to other mutants that, you know, use them for bad. In the books, Sen. Kelly is a right-wing, intolerant politician - not based on a real person, we think -- who's a constant thorn in the X-Men's collective side.)
The Web site and the TV ad, neither of which let on that their fakes, are raising comic fans' hopes that "X-Men," unlike, say "Batman and Robin," might just be a comic-book movie with a brain.
"It's certainly not an original idea," Rob Worley of the Comics 2 Film Web site (www.comics2film.com) tells Hollywood.com. "'Scream 3' had a similar promotion, in which they built a Web site for the studio where the movie-within-the-movie was set. Of course, 'The Blair Witch Project' completely exploited the concept last year,"
"[The 'X-Men' campaign] reminds me more of the satirical TV commercials that were seen in the movie 'Robocop,' which were a brilliant way to inject some of the movie's reality into the viewers' sensibilities. Everyone is familiar with political ads, so this allows the uninitiated to actually sit, momentarily, in the world of the X-Men and see what kind of prejudices are at play there. It may let non-comic readers see that there's an interesting subtext to this movie."
Of course, there's always the outside (yet highly amusing) chance that somebody, somewhere, will take all this seriously.
"Wouldn't it be great if it got all blown out of proportion?" muses Netizen "Jaywalker," a poster on the rec.arts.comics.other-media newsgroup. "Kind of reminds me of the 'War of the Worlds' broadcast that was taken seriously by so many. I'd love to see it hit the national news. Imagine Dan Rather telling people it's only a movie."
Sen. Kelly's Web site, for all intents and purposes, looks pretty much like a real campaign tool. There's information on his anti-mutant platform ("safeguarding our Creator's original vision, a vision that is now imperiled by lethal and degenerate individuals among us"), and there's even a diagnostic test to help you determine if you are a mutant. The test is "carefully compiled by our mutant profiling experts to determine the probability of basic level genetic mutation."
"There's a little Sen. Kelly in everybody," Kelly alter-ego Bruce Davison said in an online chat on Comics Continuum (www.comicscontinuum.com) last week. "I think racism is inherent in every human soul. Sen. Kelly has the power to play with that fear. That's part of the world we live in."
That's fine, but just to make it clear: Sen. Kelly isn't really part of the world we live in.