Scott Hardie: “It was ok.”

This film was an instant legend, quickly replacing "Ishtar" as the gold standard of ill-conceived flops. But audiences love to trash certain ambitiously overhyped productions ("Hulk" and "Matrix Reloaded" came out during the same summer and got similar treatment), and I've enjoyed numerous earlier films by writer-director Martin Brest, so I approached it with an open mind. What do I conclude? It's not the Chernobyl that the buzz would have you think, but in places it's disturbingly awful, and it's certainly the worst movie Brest will ever make, since it's probably his last.

The pattern of the movie is simple: It has a really awful, awkward scene that makes you squirm. Then it has a tolerable scene, and some idling, and then a few good scenes that make you think it's working after all, and then BAM! it's awful again. Maybe some viewers wanted it to stay terrible, but I didn't; the actors worked hard enough and the screenplay is thoughtful enough that I kept hoping it would maintain the tone of its better scenes, but here's proof that good filmmaking is hard to do.

Ben Affleck makes the least convincing mob enforcer I've ever seen, but he creates a believable human being otherwise, and it's plain by watching him that he's putting real effort into the part. Jennifer Lopez fares far worse: Not only is she totally unconvincing as a Sun Tzu-quoting, Yoga-practicing assassin, or an assassin of any sort -- I honestly expected for some time that she would be revealed as a decoy -- but her baby-talk delivery begins to wear on the nerves. I noticed how often she demonstrated on Affleck her philosophy of confusing an adversary with emotions, but I did not enjoy it; this is not a character with whom I wanted to spend two hours of my life. Christopher Walken, Lainie Kazan, and Al Pacino are terrific by contrast in their single scene each, reminding us like a splash of cold water what good acting looks like. Their characters are not entirely convincing either, but we can't take our eyes off of them. (I don't know what to make of Justin Bartha as the brain-damaged kid: He's working hard, but the character is such a device of the plot that I cannot estimate Bartha's contribution to the character or the film.)

Though some scenes are truly revolting, like the by-now classic "turkey time," the movie's worst problem is its pacing. There are so many long stretches of film where the characters just stare at each other, trying to figure each other out, that we want to go back in time to the editing room and take over. The final scene, which seems to go on for an eternity, is such a pain in the ass to endure (just go already!!) that it single-handedly wipes away whatever good will the better scenes may have earned, and drags down the rest of the film. It's well known by now that focus groups hated the original bloody ending and Joe Roth changed it, and while the final moments might make technical sense in terms of the plot, they sure don't feel like they belong at the end of what has come immediately before. The whole movie is awkward, but the final moments just plain feel like an alternate ending that was not intended, which is exactly what they are.

Watching Al Pacino got me thinking. He starred in "The Godfather," which has the highest user rating of any film in the IMDb, and now (probably as a favor to Brest) he appeared in "Gigli," which is rated thirteenth from the bottom. Has any other star had such a huge divide between their best-liked and least-liked films?

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