Under Pressure

08/07/2003 01:00PM

At 10:15 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 2, as Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck's very bad week was just a few hours short of its end, J.Lo was still flashing the 6.1-carat pink-diamond engagement ring from Harry Winston that Affleck gave her last fall. Missing, however, was the 31-year-old fiancé who'd been glued to her elbow in the days leading up to the opening of their first movie together, Gigli. Surrounded by a party of seven, Lopez, 34, was dining at Dolce Enoteca, an of-the-moment L.A. restaurant that counts Ashton Kutcher among its backers.

Offered the use of a private dining room, she instead opted for a power booth on the outdoor patio, where she ordered fish and salad. "She wanted to be seen," says one observer. And she was – "laughing and smiling all night; so sexy, so beautiful." Rising to leave at midnight, she nodded and smiled again to gawking patrons and headed out to a restaurant club called Shelter. Where she really wanted to be seen. "She was dancing in the middle of the floor like you wouldn't believe it," says one fellow partyer at the club. "Spinning and dancing, with her arms in the air." And looking to that upraised left hand, the clubgoer noticed: "She wasn't wearing the ring. She never had it on." Then, moving away from the dance floor, she was overheard saying to a friend: "I'm so tired of all the drama, drama, drama."

And who could blame her? In the course of a matter of days, the country's two top celebrity lovebirds (nickname: Bennifer) suddenly found themselves up to their beaks in guano. The massively hyped Gigli, a violent romantic comedy about a Mob enforcer and the lesbian hit woman who switches teams to be his girl, opened Aug. 1 to gleefully scathing reviews – the Los Angeles Times declared it "nearly as unwatchable as it is unpronounceable" – and a dismal opening-weekend gross of $3.8 million. Advance buzz about the film had been awful, but even braced for a flop, the couple probably never dreamed that "gobble, gobble" – Lopez's vulgar come-on in the movie – could inspire so many turkey puns. The critical slams made Affleck "feel like we were caught in the eye of a storm," he told Variety columnist Army Archerd, but even he conceded that the film was a botch. "We tried to fix it," he said. "But it was like putting a fish's tail on a donkey's head." A source close to Lopez figures she'll just shrug it off: "It didn't do as well as she hoped. She's moved on."

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