It’s great to see Woody Allen back in a familiar acting role. No, he isn’t the Fading Gigolo of the title (that refers to actor, writer, and director John Turturro), but he enjoys the best scenes and lines in this mildly amusing sex comedy. Unfortunately, the overall film feels under-cooked and unsatisfying. The script is sometimes puzzlingly crass and much of the dialogue sounds corny. If not quite a turkey, Fading Gigolo is a bit of a lame duck.
During the opening credits the camera roams the storefronts of Brooklyn, New York in sepia Super 8 nostalgia mode. Murray Schwartz (Woody Allen) announces in voiceover that his bookshop, owned by his grandfather and father before him, is being forced to close. It is the ‘end of an era’.
But we have no time to ponder this, as, with an abrupt grinding of gears, Murray tells his good friend Fioravante (John Turturro) that his dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) is interested in having a menage-a-trois. She asked him whether he knew anybody and he said ‘yes, but it will cost you a thousand bucks.’ Murray tells Fioravante, ‘I was thinking of you.’ ‘Are you on drugs?’ replies his friend. ‘Apart from my Zoloft, no,’ comes the answer.
Murray sets himself up as a ‘pimp’ to his friend’s ‘ho’ (60/40 split). ‘Hey, it’s the world’s oldest profession,’ is supposed to justify this ‘business’ idea. If this was, say, Eddie Murphy and Zac Efron in a Farrelly Brothers gross-out, then it might make sense. But Woody Allen and John Turturro? Really?
So the dapper, soulful florist, Fioravante, becomes a big success with his lady clients and the dubious partnership, now calling itself Virgil and Bongo, rakes in the money. Until the gigolo falls in love with lonely orthodox Jewish widow, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) and Murray gets into trouble with the local Hasidic Safety Patrol for wandering too far from his tribe.
For Woody Allen fans, it’s a pleasure to see him acting back home in New York once again. Fading Gigolo is no Manhattan or Annie Hall, but there is one diamond scene of old school slapstick that has us yearning for more. His funny lines, as when he’s trying to convince Fioravante that gigolos don’t need to be drop-dead handsome – ‘is Mick Jagger good looking? He opens his mouth and it’s horrible’ – only make the rest seem dull. Perhaps these were ones that he improvised himself.
As a character actor, John Turturro is an indie hero. He has played several memorable roles in Coen brothers and Spike Lee films: who can forget his Jesus, the bowling kingpin in The Big Lebowski? Here, he gives us glimpses of witty filmmaking – the jump cut from an orgasm to a fat man hosing the streets; the shot through the legs of Sofia Vergara which looks like a homage to The. Graduate. But Fading Gigolo doesn’t really hang together. For a comedy, there aren’t enough laughs. Fans of romance will find its ending unsatisfying. And for viewers wanting threesomes with Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara, there’s scant hot action.
Is Turturro trying to say something serious about relationships? His characters don’t properly come alive or have any psychological depth. To justify her sexual adventures, Dr. Parker says ‘everybody has all sorts of people inside of us, bursting to get out’. Then, at the end, the Hasidic Safety Patrol guy, who has been in love with Avigal all along, says, ‘it’s hard for a man to understand a woman’s feelings.’
That’s about as profound as it gets.