Film Review: Fading Gigolo 

John Turturro tries selling sex, but can’t seal the deal.

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Fading Gigolo | D+

Woody Allen rarely acts in other people’s movies, likely because from the moment you see him onscreen it’s nearly impossible to imagine the iconic, controversial comedian as being anything other than a character in a “Woody movie.” Allegedly this muddled romantic comedy about an unlikely middle-aged stud and his elderly pimp is not Allen’s work, but the confusion is understandable; Fading Gigolo — with its nostalgic vision of New York, complete with egg creams, jazz clubs, musty bookstores, and rampant misogyny — feels like vintage Woody, or something the prolific filmmaker might have scribbled on a deli napkin while waiting for his pastrami on rye.  

The real culprit behind this fatally misguided farce is writer-director John Turturro, a marvelous actor who has, over his long career, apparently never learned the first thing about pacing, dramatic structure, or creating remotely likable characters.

Turturro directs himself as Fioravante, an inarticulate schlub of a florist who happens to be best pals with Woody’s neurotic fast-kvetching bookseller, who's on the verge of permanently closing up shop because “only rare people buy rare books.”

Business isn’t all that hot at the flower shop either, but these cash-strapped entrepreneurs hit upon a brilliant moneymaking scheme: have Fio turn tricks with lonely older gals. As luck would have it, Murray (Allen) knows a comely dermatologist who wants to have a ménage à trois, which sounds like the setup for a Borscht Belt joke, but is an actual plotline here. That lonely doctor lady turns out to be Sharon Stone, her curious bedmate is Sofia Vergara, and these two vivacious cougars are apparently so hard-up for loving that they’re willing to fork over large amounts of cash to be pleasured by the lumpy, expressionless sex machine that is John Turturro.

 

Feel free to check out now, because the film careens into utterly tone-deaf and ludicrous absurdity from this point on, all rendered with a confounding mix of whimsy and dire self-seriousness. 

For some reason, Murray’s girlfriend (Tonya Pinkins) has an adorable brood of youngsters who contract head lice, leading him to take them all the way over to Bensonhurst to see an Orthodox widow (Vanessa Paradis) who specializes in de-lousing. Ever the opportunist, Murray sees a potential client in this shy, sad-eyed woman, and our paid lover boy sees a soul mate. 

The stumbling Turturro seemingly strives to show a sort of tender, sophisticated relationship, but his attempts at romance are as flat-footed as his comedy. The timid scenes between the gap-toothed Paradis and the sunken-eyed Turturro are so listless and stilted, you’ll be waiting for pigeons to stop and do their business on the performers. That would be an actually funny moment, something in short supply here, despite the efforts of such amusing actors as Allen, Bob Balaban, and Liev Schreiber — none of whom can make chicken salad out of these crap ingredients. 

Fading Gigolo is rated R, has a running time of 90 minutes, and is now playing in select theaters.

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