Review: 'Fading Gigolo'

Two stars

The urban fantasy "Fading Gigolo" almost gets by on its idiosyncrasies. First, there is the setting that keeps on giving: New York City. And then, there's NYC's favorite cinematic son, Woody Allen, schlemiel-ing it up as an unlikely pimp. And let's not forget the Hasidic neighborhood watch and tribunal that threaten to derail his lucrative new business, even as Sharon Stone and Sofía Vergara angle for a ménage à trois with John Turturro's shy "ho." What, as they say, could go wrong?

But for all this, the film never quite rises above a base curiosity value. As written and directed by Turturro, "Fading Gigolo" is sincere and humbly ambitious, manners at odds with its farcical premise. As a result, Turturro's film is jack of two trades, master of neither. The comedy is limp, goosed occasionally by the still-funny comic performer Allen, while the drama is either unwelcome (put Woody Allen in front of a Hasidic tribunal, and it's time to cut loose, not tug the reins) or unsatisfying in its sedateness or its unlikelihood.

Allen plays Murray Schwartz, a bookseller who loses his shop to rising rent and stagnant business. While soaking up the commiseration of his florist friend Fioravante (Turturro), Murray not so idly mentions that his dermatologist Dr. Parker (Stone) wants to arrange a ménage à trois with her friend Selima (Sofía Vergara) and some stud. Parker's willing to pay a thousand bucks, Murray could sure use a commission, and, well, how about it? Though understandably reluctant, Fioravante relents for some reason, and we're off to the races.

Or we would be, if this were a Woody Allen comedy from twenty years ago. Turturro instead treats this idea as a kind of photogenic fable -- or feature-length public service announcement -- to remind people that sex is good for their mental health, so why not have some today? The business with Stone and Vergara turns out to be something of a red herring (plus it's difficult to accept these two as sexual neurotics who need or want prostitutes); rather, "Fading Gigolo"'s heart resides with Hasidic widow Avigal (Vanessa Paradis, a striking presence), who hasn't felt the touch of a man in some time and languishes as a result, a notion that might be touching if it didn't feel so patronizing.

And so it goes: at times thuddingly earnest ("This is what you do," Avigal tells Fioravante. "Bring magic to the lonely"), at times, jazzily, goofily endearing (as in Allen fancying the street name "Dan Bongo" or the film's falling action of "We're not dead yet" male bonding). The characters, including Liev Schreiber's lovelorn Hasidic neighborhood patrolman, are established in shorthand, which undercuts all of the attempts at drama, and Turturro's romanticism keeps undercutting the humor before it has a chance to get satisfyingly irreverent. Call it comoedia interruptus.


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