HOLLYWOOD, CA—Focus groups at advance screenings for Gigli, a romantic comedy starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez set to open nationwide July 30, have demanded a new ending in which both stars die "in as brutal a manner as possible," sources at Sony Pictures said Tuesday.
"The movie is pretty good, I guess," read one comment card from a test-screening audience in Culver City, CA. "I liked the Al Pacino character, but I had a hard time buying Jennifer Lopez as a lesbian. I also really, really wanted [Affleck and Lopez's characters] Larry and Ricki to die, to get shot or blown up or run over by something. I would prefer to see the blood and the looks on their faces."
On Monday, 3,000 people in markets as varied as Dallas, Chicago, Albany, Atlanta, and Seattle screened Gigli, a gangster-themed romantic comedy written and directed by Martin Brest, in which lowly thug Affleck lets his love for hitwoman Lopez get in the way of a high-risk mob assignment. Of those viewers, 2,965 "strongly agreed" that the ending should be changed to include a graphic scene in which its main characters die.
"Many participants wrote 'shot to death' in the space provided for comments, probably thinking that it fit in with the gangster characters' stated realities," Columbia Pictures director of marketing Peter Zitterman said. "Some comments showed a lot of careful thought, such as 'point blank through head from right side,' 'both at once with single shot from elephant gun,' and 'several hundred times, with multiple camera angles showing their bodies jerking as they're shredded with a heavy hosing of lead, spraying the lens with gobbets of meat and bone and blood, with the sheer number of fist-sized exit wounds obviously precluding any sequel.' And shootings weren't the only ideas suggested, believe me."
According to the exit cards, other popular methods of achieving Lopez and Affleck's on-screen demise included car bombs, multiple stab wounds, acid baths, rabid wolf attacks, lightning strikes, and, in one case, a "hammer party."
"We never expected this kind of reaction," Zitterman said. "We've had odd results from focus groups before, but I don't recall an audience ever agreeing on such a sweeping change. If only we had done this survey in pre-production."
Although the various test audiences differed on the preferred methods of death, they seemed unanimous on one point.
"We were very surprised at how many viewers thought that, no matter what, Affleck and Lopez should not be entwined in a romantic embrace at the time of their deaths," Zitterman said. "Everyone was perfectly clear on that."
Although Brest said he is satisfied with the final cut of Gigli, he briefly considered incorporating some of the test audience's ideas into the film.
"The danger here is succumbing to what people in the business call 'option paralysis'—being caught with so many good ideas that you're not sure which one to use," Brest said. "Getting shot is fine, but what about an automobile fire in which Ben and Jennifer are shown perishing in a slow-motion montage, their newfound love discarded as they try desperately to claw their way past each other's melting bodies, while slowly roasting to death in their own fat? You'd be surprised at how many people came up with that one. Or having them crawl through a field of broken glass while a safely booted and gloved Christopher Walken casually advances on them with a spray bottle of acid and a pair of bolt-cutters? I must say, a part of me loves the idea of them chewing each other to death during a 14-minute dolly shot."
Added Brest: "Believe me, after the singular experience of working with these two for several months, it would be a joy to get back together just to make these changes."
Even if time were not prohibitive, Columbia executives remained skeptical about the validity of the focus-group results.
"I find it hard to believe that audiences would harbor hostility toward such major media figures as J. Lo and Ben," Zitterman said. "With her magazine covers, clothing and perfume lines, and constant radio presence; his roles in Daredevil and Project Greenlight; and their recent joint appearances on Dateline NBC and numerous entertainment shows, how could anyone wish for anything but a resolution that unites these two attractive, highly visible celebrities?"
Insiders confirm that time constraints will prevent the much-requested death-scene additions to Gigli, which already underwent several days of fine-tuning when earlier focus groups noted a lack of romantic chemistry from the real-life couple. In light of the results, however, director Kevin Smith has said he will consider adding a gruesome double homicide to his Affleck-Lopez comedy Jersey Girl, due in theaters next year.