Their off-screen romance has already consumed acres of newsprint, but Jennifer Lopez (searchand Ben Affleck (searchjust can't seem to get their act together on screen.

The action comedy Gigli, which casts them as two mob contract killers, has already been postponed twice and is currently set for July 30.

Their second movie together, Kevin Smith's (search) Jersey Girl, has been put off from an Oscar-friendly November release date to sometime early next year - and nobody is quite certain why.

Depending on whom you talk to, Smith's dramedy about a music publicist and a school teacher, shot last summer mainly in Philadelphia, has been postponed because:

* The distributor, Miramax, got cold feet about plans to open the movie just two days after the sci-fi box-office juggernaut The Matrix Revolutions.

* Conflicts with the stars' international publicity tour for Gigli meant they wouldn't be able to fully push Jersey Girl.

* Miramax wants to put more space between Jersey Girl and Gigli, which has the worst advance buzz of any movie this season.

* Some combination of the above.

"Why? Two words: Matrix Revolutions," Smith says on his Web site.

The director declined to elaborate, but the sequel is scheduled to open on Nov. 5 -- two days before Jersey Girl was to have arrived in theaters.

The only movie to open in wide release last month against The Matrix Reloaded was the romantic comedy Down With Love, which took in a paltry $7.5 million compared with $93.3 million for Reloaded.

But Rick Sands, Miramax's chief operating officer, insists that "wasn't the primary reason the movie was moved. [Jersey Girl and The Matrix Revolutions] have different audiences."

Instead, Sands blames the common practice of opening movies overseas weeks, and sometimes months, after their U.S. premieres -- and stars traveling around the globe to promote them.

"Jennifer Lopez just finished a major international tour for Maid in Manhattan," Sands said, referring to a Lopez movie that began its slow rollout in the United States back in December.

"Gigli will be opening around the world in the fall."

With Affleck also promoting the sci-thriller Paycheck, set to open in the United States in December, the decision was made to move Jersey Girl to an unspecified date in the first quarter of 2004.

Smith told an audience at a comic-book convention recently that it will probably be in February, but Sands says the studio is studying the field of competing releases before settling on a date, which might come as late as March.

Some industry cynics think Miramax may be trying to protect its movie from an anticipated firestorm of criticism against Gigli, which was shot before Jersey Girl.

Gigli has drawn venomous on-line reviews at test screenings, even after major reshoots. (Revolution Studios insists the problems have been solved and the film now tests well.)

"The negative publicity on Gigli is brutal, and unstoppable at this point," said David Poland, who runs the moviecitynews Web site.

"I'm sure there was more than one factor, but the original scheduling of Jersey Girl suggested they thought they had an Oscar movie."

Sands pooh-poohed the idea that negative buzz from Gigli was a factor in choosing the opening day of his studio's movie. "The only relation between the two movies is because of the worldwide marketing campaign. We don't want to release two movies with the same cast on top of one another."

He also denied Miramax had written off the Oscar hopes of Jersey Girl, which some insiders claim contains Affleck's best performance, and Smith's most impressive direction, since Chasing Amy.

"We believe you can release a movie any time and have it considered by the Academy," Sands said.

"It's a very commercial movie. It's testing fabulously with audiences. It makes the most sense to release it when we can achieve maximum publicity."

As it happens, Miramax plans to release two more J.Lo movies in 2004, the drama An Unfinished Life, with Robert Redford, (search) and the romantic comedy Shall We Dance, co-starring Richard Gere (search).

"We're going to distance them," Sands said. "One of them is going out at Christmas."