I was about to write that "House of Gucci" is a case of style over substance but then I realized it's not all that stylish, either.
"Gucci" stars Adam Driver as fashion heir Maurizio Gucci and Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani, the wife who contracted to kill him in 1995. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie spotlights beautiful clothes but it's a long, unwieldy mess that begins with its most promising scenes, which knowingly (I think?) parody romantic comedy cliches.
Patrizia and Maurizio "meet cute" when she mistakes the wealthy scion for a bartender at a disco. Their courtship is charming, with details that dare moviegoers to remember which rom-com they're swiped from: She writes her phone number in lipstick on the windshield of his motorbike. She's constantly pulling him into bathtubs and rowboats to make love. Disinherited by his father, he playfully squirts water at co-workers at his new job, washing trucks.
After the first 45 minutes, though, "Gucci" is undone by a script that never figures out what story it's telling or who its main character is. Lady Gaga, the fieriest and most entertaining performer, seems game to make this a ridiculous soap opera in the style of vintage TV shows such as "Dynasty," especially when she prances around in shoulder-forward suits and barks goofy lines like, "Time to take out the trash!" But the movie is too solemn and scattered to work as camp.
The screenplay dawdles over boring, arcane business dealings and wastes time on pointless characters, as if director Scott was reluctant to trim them because the actors are doing so much acting. Jeremy Irons, for instance, plays Maurizio's controlling father, a performance which reveals that Irons' gifts do not include accents or looking like there's any way he could possibly be related to Driver. And Jared Leto's work as Maurizio's ridiculous cousin is the type of hammy, deluded hijinks that could make Oscar voters wonder if there's a clause for rescinding previously awarded statues.
The biggest issue, and an ironic one for a movie about a fashion empire, is that it has no shape. You'll probably go into "Gucci" knowing Patrizia eventually has Maurizio killed but it's not a building-up-to-tragedy movie because there's no suspense around those events, which develop only very late in the 137-minute film.
Since Gaga is the most vibrant person on screen, "Gucci" could work as an investigation of how Patrizia shifts from fun-loving young woman to embittered murderer. But "Gucci" doesn't supply much context or help us understand what motivates her. Maybe we're supposed to think she was evil from the get-go?
The result is that you reach the end of the movie, sometimes having been entertained and more often irritated, and wonder, "What were they trying to do here?"
'House of Gucci'
*1/2 out of four stars
Rated: R for strong language and violence.
Where: In area theaters.