No swords, sandals or aliens can be found in director Ridley Scott's House of Gucci, a drama about the decline of the Gucci family and the murder of Maurizio Gucci, a crime engineered by his estranged wife.
The day after I saw the movie, the following headline appeared in Variety:"House of Gucci First Reactions Range From Absurdly Enjoyable to Bloated and Uneven Mess."
Yes, I thought, that's it. Not one of those. All of them.
The movie focuses more on internecine warfare among the Guccis than on Maurizio's murder. En route to the sensational 1995 crime -- for which the former Patrizia Reggiani was found guilty and served 18 years in an Italian prison -- the movie offers a sumptuous tour of the accouterments of Gucci wealth.
You'll also find an abundance of vividly incompatible performances given by a variety of actors speaking English in what amounts to a Babylon of variable Italian accents.
Sporting goggle-sized glasses, Adam Driver portrays the mild-mannered Maurizio Gucci, the man who was overwhelmed into marrying Patrizia, played in Scott's telling by Lady Gaga, who doesn’t shrink from the power of her considerable presence.
There's no universe in which I would have thought to cast Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons as brothers, but Scott pulls it off.
Irons portrays the thin-lipped, severely aristocratic Rodolfo Gucci, a man who rules over the company with his brother Aldo (Pacino), a portly exuberant man who looks as if he hasn’t denied himself many pleasures during his journey to great wealth.
Scott brings lots of opera to the soundtrack. Why not? House of Gucci brims with oversized emotions, devious betrayals, and, finally, murder -- ingredients that fuel many operas.
Gaga barges into the movie in much the same way as she barges into the Gucci family — willfully. She makes it clear that Patrizia easily could have overpowered the bookish Maurizio, rendered by Driver as an ineffectual young man who gradually accustoms himself to power and luxury.
Of course, there's also Patrizia's swinging hips, generous cleavage, and pugnacious spirit.
And the rest of the cast ....
Unrecognizable after what must have been a gargantuan makeover, Jared Leto plays Aldo's son, a balding airhead of a man referred to by his father as "an idiot, but my idiot." Leto’s mumbled line readings are bizarre, amusing, and confounding. (Yes, that's Leto to the right, an actor who turns himself into a human special effect in House of Gucci.)
Salma Hayek signs on Pina, a psychic Patrizia discovers while watching TV and with whom she builds a relationship. Pina eventually helps Patrizia locate the assassins who will shoot Maurizio.
Jack Huston appears as Domenico De Sole, a background figure who eventually moves forward to play a part in the financial drama in which the Guccis are expelled from their own empire.
Truth be told, Scott -- working from a screenplay by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna -- doesn't do a great job with financial complications but the gist remains clear.
At times, I wondered whether Scott was being serious or whether he was secretly gagging over high-fashion absurdity — its pretensions, its obsession with money, and its furious competitiveness.
At other times, I was sure that Scott was trying to be campy.
And at still other times, I thought he might be striving to create a great mercantile family drama.
I settled on “all of the above.”
So here's my final word or two: From the start, House of Gucci, a lavish hunk of a movie, does its best not to succeed but manages to be entertaining anyway. Maybe someone should turn it into a real opera.
And, then, there's Pacino's Aldo - vast of spirit, sloppily sentimental, and conniving. At times, I felt as if Pacino were about to swallow every scene that he's in -- and sometimes I wish he had.
All I can say is set aside expectations and enjoy watching a director and his cast push, bully and insinuate themselves into a beautifully dressed world where trashy behavior and haute-couture pirouettes mingle and collide.