By Alex McPherson

Overlong, goofy at some points and deadly serious at others, not even a star-studded cast can save Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” from mediocrity.

This true-crime drama, beginning in the late 1970’s, centers around Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a confident woman born into a poor family in Northern Italy who profits generously from her stepfather’s trucking business in the present-day. She meets Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at a glitzy party, and the two soon fall for each other.

Reggiani is attracted both to Maurizio and the Gucci company itself. Maurizio wants to distance himself from the spotlight and follow his own path. Soon enough, they’re married, to the anguish of Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), who’s aghast that his son would wed such a peasant.

Maurizio’s uncle, Aldo (Al Pacino), sees an opportunity to lure Maurizio back into the family business through Patrizia; he shuns his immature, resentful son, Paolo (an unrecognizable Jared Leto), who desperately wants to be recognized as worthy of the family name. As time progresses, Maurizio is reluctantly brought back into the fray, and Patrizia grows increasingly conniving as she seeks to make herself “successful,” no matter who gets in her way.

The soapy drama that ensues involves backstabbing, manipulation, and cold-blooded murder. Sadly, “House of Gucci” doesn’t develop its central players enough to make its narrative compelling from an outsider perspective, but there’s still some fun to be had in watching Gaga, Leto, and Pacino go all-out on their respective roles, cringe be damned. Contrary to what the film’s marketing indicates, though, this is a ponderous, disjointed, messy affair that — despite a few memorably over-the-top sequences — remains unfortunately dull.

At least the actors involved are up to the task. Gaga, carrying herself with gusto, lends a formidable power to the role of Patrizia, devolving into ferocious, animalistic mentalities as her greed envelops her. Frustratingly, Scott attempts to cover so much ground during the 2-hour-45-minute runtime that Patrizia’s arc is sped through, particularly regarding her infatuation with the Gucci brand early on and her slide into madness. With a thick Italian (Russian?) accent, eye-catching outfits, and a fiery temper, she’s entertaining to watch, but it’s difficult to ultimately care about what happens to her. Indeed, Patrizia is always dialed up to 11, for better and worse.

Carried by Gaga’s charisma, the other actors are seemingly unsure whether to ham-it-up or keep themselves down-to-earth. Irons has one delicious verbal takedown that wouldn’t be out of place in “Succession,” and Pacino exudes warm, fatherly vibes while scheming behind the scenes.

Driver’s Maurizio represents the voice of reason in most situations, and his emotional expression is considerably downplayed compared to the others. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum is Leto, whose go-for-broke approach calls to mind Tommy Wiseau of “The Room,” to uneven levels of success (there’s a scene where he pisses on a scarf). Salma Hayek leaves a positive impression as an unhinged, upper-class psychic.

This inconsistency extends to the film’s screenplay, co-written by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna. Highlight-reel lines like “Father, Son, and House of Gucci” are amusingly self-aware, but dry discussion of the company’s inner-workings is far less engaging. In terms of editing, “House of Gucci” also feels jumbled, cutting between scenes abruptly without giving each exchange a satisfying climax or providing viewers time to reflect as the film lunges forward. 

Stylistically, Scott misses an opportunity to capitalize on the peoples’ loony psyches. The image is often bathed in a muted, gray filter — perfect for Scott’s own, far superior “The Last Duel,” but out-of-place here — and only sometimes embraces the campiness inherent in the subject matter, inserting a few bluntly effective musical cues that put a smile on my face. 

Generally, “House of Gucci” seems unsure of what it’s trying to be. Brisker pacing, an hour-shorter runtime, and more focus on Patrizia in all her malevolent glory could have rendered it gleefully dark escapism. In its current state, however, viewers would be better off watching Scott’s criminally underseen epic “The Last Duel” instead.

“House of Gucci” is a 2021 crime drama directed by Ridley Scott and starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jared Leto, Jack Huston, Jeremy Irons and Salma Hayak. It is rated  R for language, some sexual content, brief nudity, and violence and is 2 hours, 37 minutes long. In theatres Nov. 24. Alex’s Grade: C

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