"Gigli" arrives carrying more baggage than a Greyhound bus, which may distract moviegoers from what is a silly but still an enjoyably written and performed romantic comedy. With a story that sounds ludicrous but is actually fun to watch, this late-summer entry will likely check out of theaters before it recoups, but have an active afterlife.

“Gigli” arrives carrying more baggage than a Greyhound bus, which may distract moviegoers from what is a silly but still an enjoyably written and performed romantic comedy. With a real-life romance between its two leads that seems to draw equal measures of scorn and curiosity, and a story that sounds ludicrous but is actually fun to watch, this late-summer entry will likely check out of theaters before it recoups, but discover an active afterlife.

Only the second film in a decade (following the disastrous “Meet Joe Black”) from Martin Brest and the first written solely by him since “Going in Style” in 1979, pic is one of the few in current release from major studios to rely on dialogue and character creation rather than slam-bang action.The story has small-time L.A. mobster Larry Gigli (Ben Affleck) enlisted by his boss to carry out the kidnapping of a mentally handicapped kid (Justin Bartha), as a means of putting pressure on the kid’s brother, a federal prosecutor giving a hard time to a underworld higher-up (Al Pacino).

No sooner has Gigli (rhymes with “really”) installed the kid in his apartment for safe-keeping than he gets another roommate — a tough-talking, midriff-baring female mob operative and knock-out named Ricki (Jennifer Lopez) who moves in under orders to make sure that Gigli doesn’t screw up the job.

Stuck in Gigli’s dingy digs, handsome pair has plenty of time to move from loathing to lusting for one another. The roadblock is that Ricki claims to be a lesbian, and backs it up with a convincing monologue on why the female form is more desirable, performed along with a series of provocative yoga poses that quickly have Gigli’s mind reduced to mush. But the prideful Lothario regroups, and the battle of the sexes is on.

The story is nonsensical, to be sure, and grows more so, but for connoisseurs of romantic comedy, it’s sometimes clear that the whole point is to savor the thrust and parry as love blooms between the leads — much as action junkies forgive ludicrous set-ups on the way to a great fight scene — and in this department, “Gigli” does score. Its often profane flights of lyrical rhetoric are often hilarious, on a par with the character-based wackiness of “Bull Durham,” at times; at others, it evokes “Chasing Amy” in outrageousness, while lacking that pic’s seriousness of purpose.

Lopez and Affleck are thoroughly engaging in their smartly calibrated opposites — his lost boy under a tough, Vinnie-from-the-block exterior to her sensually purring Zen warrior. Lopez has not been this good since “Out of Sight,” while Affleck’s turn should add a measure of respect to what seems like an inordinately charmed career.

In other roles, Lenny Venito displays magnetically seedy panache as Louis the small-time mob boss. Justin Bartha, in his debut as the handicapped Brian, gives a performance likely to put him on the map, despite its obvious debt to Dustin Hoffman and Leonardo DiCaprio. Doing a cameo for his “Scent of a Woman” director, Pacino gives new meaning to “over the top,” and Walken similarly lets us know that it’s all in good fun.

Solid tech contributions work toward a realistic feel.

Gigli

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Revolution Studios presentation of a City Lights Films/Casey Silver production. Produced by Casey Silver, Martin Brest. Executive producer, John Hardy. Directed, written by Martin Brest.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Robert Elswit; editors, Billy Weber, Julie Monroe; music, John Powell; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; art director, Sue Chan; set designer, Theodore Sharps; set decorator, Maggie Martin; costume designer, Michael Kaplan; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Jeff Wexler; supervising sound mixers, Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montano; special effects coordinator, Kevin Hannigan; associate producers, Frederic W. Brost, Amy Sayres; assistant director, Sayres; casting, Ellen Lewis. Reviewed at the Bruin Theater, L.A. July 27, 2003. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 124 MIN.

With

Larry Gigli - Ben Affleck Ricki - Jennifer Lopez Brian - Justin Bartha Mother - Lainie Kazan Robin - Missy Crider Louis - Lenny Venito Det. Stanley Jacobellis - Christopher Walken Starkman - Al Pacino

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