Review: ‘House of Gucci’ (murder most whimsical)

If the point was to make the Gucci family look small and incompetent, the film is twice as long as it deserves to be.

Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) wants nothing to do with the family fashion business — in spite of being heir to its legacy. It’s okay, though, because Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) has enough ambition for them both. After being cut off by his father Rodolpho (Jeremy Irons) for marrying Patrizia to begin with, Maurizio is pulled back in by his uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) since his own son Poalo (Jared Leto) is unfit to do anything for the business. Following Patrizia’s lead, the new power couple eventually makes a play to maneuver the Gucci empire out of the rest of the family’s hands, unfortunately empowering Maurizio to believe he can handle it all on his own.

The book “The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed” by Sara Gay Forden was already ripe for a Hollywood adaptation for its mere existence. Filmed on location, primarily set in the 1980s fashion industry, and stocked with actors like Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons, this House is ready-made for a scandalous offering to the awards-season gods. After adding Lady Gaga and Jared Leto with a few sports cars and a little tax evasion, the only thing missing is a big name director. With Ridley Scott at the helm and everything going for it, House of Gucci should have a salivating true-crime-loving audience and the solid attention of awards voters, right?

For a story like this to work, the players must be shown as bigger than life, yet what viewers are given feels small, caricatures instead of characters, helped along by a bizarre sense of whimsy and polluted with pedestrian soundtrack choices that grate against the film score. The first hour clicks along building to something delicious and evil, but just as the details should have become more interesting, it fails to rise above the stereotypical. How did a family supposedly this powerful maintain their status for so long with so little manpower or influence if we’re to believe what made it onto the screen? If the point was to treat the characters like animals in a zoo, laughing and pointing at them through the glass for being what they are, mission accomplished, but doing so renders the climax trivial and the rest of the production unimportant.

While several scenes appear stuffed with plenty of friends and family, the core cast really comes down to just a handful of characters — none of whom are particularly compelling — and shows them going through the motions. A one-hour true-crime documentary could have done the same thing, hit identical bullet points, and clocked in ninety minutes shorter. Pacino and Irons do what they can with the little they got, and Maurizio is the least-engrossing part Adam Driver has played since Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequels. A Star is Born’s Lady Gaga dominates the screen time, but her Patrizia appears less threatening than even the happiest roles Gaga plays in her music videos, repeating the same if-looks-could-kill expression as a default setting. Only living-caricature Leto in heavy makeup manages to rise above the script, but only because every circus needs a clown.

By the time the film loops back around to the key event that prompted the book and subsequent film, the only shock is how long it took getting there. It doesn’t even bother to show how those responsible were found out, red-meat details omitted so the production could skip to the credits. There’s one bright spot, however: it kept director Scott away from filming another Prometheus sequel, so let’s count our blessings.

House of Gucci is rated R for language, some sexual content, brief nudity, violence, and an epilogue that tells instead of shows.

Two skull recommendation out of four

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