In “Fading Gigolo,” John Turturro plays a "ho" and Woody Allen is his unlikely pimp. Turturro wrote, directed and stars in the film but the strengths don’t lie in direction or script, but in star power. Woody Allen back in the actor's seat is hilarious. Set aside your feelings about the hoopla surrounding Allen’s personal life, and you can have fun watching him as Murray, the owner of a fading Manhattan bookstore. Murray needs cash and lands an opportunity to make $1000 dollars by pimping out his friend.
Fioravante (Turturro) is Murray's glum faced friend who works in a floral shop. He is quiet and has a hangdog look as he creates flower arrangements in a quiet shop. Murray tells him of an opportunity to make money if he agrees to provide a ménage for his dermatologist (Sharon Stone) and her sexy friend Selima (Sofia Vergara).
For much of the film, Fioravante's loneliness and disappointment in life are obvious but not funny. When his eyes aren’t rousing pity, they appear in a catatonic trance and it is not clear what the actor was going for here. During the second half it would be nice if Cher's character from "Moonstruck" would come along and slap him hard in the face to wake him up. Turturro is usually a compelling actor so what happened here? The problems lie in the script. The movie isn't sure where it's going.
“Fading Gigolo” is really two separate films. In the trailer it appears that the movie is a riotous comedy. It doesn’t show that the other half of the movie is a lovelorn drama. Granted, comedy and drama often work well together. Not so much here. If Turturro had stuck to comedy it could’ve been a hit. Turturro would’ve been wise to work on the script longer and hire skillful editors, maybe even Allen himself.
Overall, it is an enjoyable film but disappointing. With the unusual premise it could’ve been great — hey, it’s hard out there for an old Jewish pimp. Sinfully, Stone and Vergara were not used to their capacity. They appear in very few scenes and their characters are flat and cartoonish. With their talent and the right dialogue they could’ve brought raucous humor. Sigh, if only Allen had written the script. Instead they are beautiful, bland and background.
The movie takes a strange turn when the fragile Hasidic widow Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) becomes a customer. Hopefully we'll see much more of Paradis in American movies. Best known as Johnny Depp’s ex-longterm love and the mother of his children, here she gives a riveting performance during every millisecond of screen time. She was so compelling her storyline should’ve been made into a feature-length drama.
Liev Schreiber shows up for a fun schtick as Dovi, a Hasidic cop who has been desperately lovesick for Avigal since childhood. Schreiber reinvented himself by 180 degrees. He's nothing like his magnetically sexy, macho role as Ray Donovan. At times Schreiber seems so tickled by playing Dovi that he might burst out laughing, which is endearing.
Woody Allen fans can add a star. It's really his movie. Sorry John!
“Fading Gigolo” is a comedy drama. It opens April 18, 2014. Rated R. 90 minutes.