It pains me to say these words about anything, but House of Gucci is begging to be a Ryan Murphy series. At least then we might actually know whether its frequent lurches into acidic camp were intentional. Ridley Scott’s film is a trashtacular watch that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. But it fails to settle on a consistent tone — overlong and undisciplined as it careens between high drama and opera buffa. “I had no idea I married a monster,” hisses Lady Gaga as the embittered Patrizia Reggiani, once her marriage to fashion scion Maurizio Gucci has soured. “You didn’t,” shoots back Adam Driver in the latter role. “You married a Gucci.”

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Snappy exchanges like that one recall the gloriously hoary 1980s heyday of Dynasty, when the emotions were as big as the shoulder pads and hair, and the tawdry goings-on behind the wealth and glambition of a family business empire provided outrageous plot fodder. The difference here is that the seedy saga of love, betrayal and murder is based on fact. But any pathos suggested by the true-story stamp gets lost in sloppy execution. Scott returns to similar territory of dynastic wealth, sordid crime and an Italian setting just four years after All the Money in the World, which was stolid but at least competent. This time he seems to be directing by numbers.

House of Gucci

THE BOTTOM LINE

Overcooked pasta, smothered in sauce.

Release date: Wednesday, Nov. 24

Cast: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Salma Hayek, Al Pacino, Camille Cottin, Reeve Carney

Director: Ridley Scott

Screenwriters: Becky Johnson, Roberto Bentivegna; story by Johnson, based on the book by Sara Gay Forden


Rated R, 2 hours 37 minutes

Say what you will about the Ryan Murphy factory, but at least he dives in with an unstinting commitment to lurid excess, making him an ideal fit for real-life stories of murder most foul and fashionable. (Just watch the insane Judith Light episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace for a prime example.) Scott seems oddly unsure of himself here, not helped by the clunky dialogue of Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna’s pedestrian script. Nor possibly by the challenges of shooting a decades-spanning, globe-trotting ensemble drama during a pandemic. Even less so by a cast with little cohesion but no shortage of scenery chompers.


Alongside the inevitably fabulous period costume and production design, the high point is Gaga’s full-tilt performance, even — or perhaps especially — when she morphs into Steven Van Zandt on The Sopranos while ordering a hit on her estranged husband. (My partner has been narrowing his eyes and pointing a finger at me, snarling, “Don’t meese” ever since the trailer dropped.)


In a performance more often than not dialed up to 110, Gaga puts on a transfixing show, bringing fierce charisma and ferocious drive to Patrizia, an accountant at her family’s trucking company who married Maurizio Gucci in 1972 and had him gunned down by a hitman in 1995. Even when she’s just lighting a cigarette or stirring an espresso, Gaga hurls herself into the character with savage gusto. Whenever she’s onscreen, the movie bristles with electricity. By contrast, Driver — in his second consecutive project for Scott after The Last Duel — is quite subdued, crafting a complex character by more nuanced means. That puts the two leads pretty much in different movies.


Then there are the supporting players, led by Jeremy Irons as Maurizio’s suave snob of a father, the former actor Rodolfo, with an accent that drifts between Italian and standard Oxbridge. On quite another level is the prosciutto face-off between Al Pacino and Jared Leto as Maurizio’s exuberant Uncle Aldo and his idiot son Paolo, respectively. Leto wins that contest by a mile with a clownish fat-suit-and-prosthetics performance that’s simply astonishing. And not in a good way. “My life has been hard, really hard. I haven’t sheet in a week,” he whines, in a line not untypical of a character who seems obsessed with defecation. “Never confuse sheet with cioccolato,” he notes later, apropos of what, I couldn’t say.