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Lady Gaga, Adam Driver

“HOUSE OF GUCCI” My rating: C (In theaters)

167 minutes | MPAA rating: R

We’re all familiar with cinematic sagas of backstabbing among the filthy rich. Entire TV series have grown around that idea.

In fact, we’re so accustomed to the wealthy misbehaving that any example of the genre trying to capture our time and attention had best come up with something — an approach, an edge, an attitude — that sets it apart.

This is precisely what Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” fails to do.

This is a multi-character epic of greed and power that is intermittently intriguing but which overall suffers from a bad case of meh

The screenplay by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna (based on Sara Gay Forden’s nonfiction book) lacks a point of view or even an obvious purpose.  The story is based on facts, but the telling is satire- and irony-free, a bland recitation of events with no attempt to analyze or interpret.

In a shorter film this might have been finessed, but “…Gucci” runs for more than 2 1/2 hours…by the halfway point a viewer’s attention span starts to wander as it becomes clear we’re not going anywhere.

And director Scott’s heart clearly isn’t in it.  This effort lacks even his trademark visual pizzazz. 

The film is strongest in its early passages, when we’re introduced to Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), who works as a secretary for her papa’s Milanese trucking company.  Gaga once again establishes her bona fides as a genuine movie star…here she seems to be channelling Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobridgida, a potent mixture of sex and sassiness. 

Out partying  one night Patrizia bumps into a rather shy but charming young man who introduces himself as Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver).

He describes himself as a humble law student, but Patrizia recognizes that this is one of the heirs to the Gucci fashion empire.  She starts stalking Maurizio, plotting an “accidental” meeting.

Is she a gold digger?  Well, Maurizio’s uber-cultured father (Jeremy Irons) certainly thinks so, but the film declines to pass judgment.  Patrizia is in some ways solidly plebeian (she doesn’t like reading) but she’s no shortage of ambition, something that gratifies her to Maurizio’s uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), who runs the Gucci empire from a New York high rise.

Under his new wife’s insistent prodding the laid-back Maurizio is slowly sucked into the firm’s management, undergoing a bit of a personality change in the process.  Power corrupts, don’t cha know?

In fact, Patrizia makes such a pest of herself, meddling in Gucci business, that divorce rears its ugly head. In a plot development that beggars the imagination (but which actually happened), she befriends a TV psychic (Salma Hayek) and together they put together a hit on hubby.

That’s the main plot thread of “House of Gucci,” but it’s only one of many.  

Jared Leto

The film jerks to life every time Jared Leto makes an appearance as Aldo’s son Paolo, a wannabe designer utterly lacking in taste and talent who owns a big chunk of Guggi stock but is considered an idiot by one and all.  

Leto is unrecognizable beneath bald pate, scraggly hair and double chin…his Paolo is like a parody of every hapless loser you’ve ever met.   You’re almost tempted to feel sorry for him, but the guy is so clueless and irritating we practically take pleasure in his humiliations.

(Some smart grad student in psychology is going to do a thesis on why one of the most handsome actors in Hollywood insists in role after role on uglying himself up beneath layers of grotesque makeup and prosthetics.)

There is no shortage of betrayals here.  Patrizia and Maurizio learn that Uncle Aldo has been cheating on his America taxes and turn him in so they can take over the company.  Then they must face a coup engineered by the CEO of Gucci America (Jack Huston).  

While Patrizia stews in divorcee hell, Maurizio cavorts with a thin French friend (Camille Cottin).

Damn, but these rich folk push the envelope.

Truth be told, most of the performances here are just fine.  It’s the storytelling that lets us down, keeping us at arm’s length and ultimately leaving us without any character to care about.

| Robert W. Butler

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