Review: ‘Fading Gigolo’ finds few jokes in women wanting to bang John Turturro

Woody Allen plays John Turturro's pimp in "Fading Gigolo" because why not. Millennium Entertainment
Woody Allen plays John Turturro’s pimp in “Fading Gigolo” because why not.
Millennium Entertainment

‘Fading Gigolo’
Director: John Turturro
Stars: John Turturro, Woody Allen
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

There was probably never a good time to release a comedy in which Woody Allen plays a pimp. Bad timing is a fleeting thing, and whether the entertainment legend proves to be innocent or guilty of the crimes he’s alleged to have committed, viewers of the future will surely also judge “Fading Gigolo” — written, directed and starring John Turturo as a ho — as a misjudged but not altogether worthless production.

Such a claim doesn’t seem likely in its first half hour. Turturro and Allen are Fiorvante and Murray respectively a florist and the owner of a bookshop shuttering amidst a wintry economic climate. To make a buck, they reinvent themselves as a man of the night and his master, respectively, selling the fiftysomething Fiorvante to bored socialites, including Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara as a bisexual couple who want to pay a fortune to bang Barton Fink.

That women lust for John Turturro in 2014 seems like a sort of joke, but Turturro the writer, director as well as star doesn’t seem to think it’s all that funny either. This is one of the actor’s rare calm performances, but he goes too far; he’s stilted to the point of possible narcolepsy, even if we’re assured he apparently brings the lovin’. But whatever joke appears to be going on lies as flat as Turturro’s listless turn, which drags down a comedy that appears to be aiming for deadpan and absurdist.

Opposite him, Woody Allen is his usual gesticulating self, though his presence mostly reminds one that almost no one but Woody Allen knows how to write for Woody Allen, sometimes including Woody Allen. Though Turturro has gone to great pains to make this feel like an old school W.A. movie — and perhaps the filmmaker once upon a time would have made his, probably slightly funnier version of this himself — Woody gets no dead-on one-liners, nor any dead-on-arrival ones that you like because of their cheesiness. He doesn’t appear to have ad-libbed, ghost-written or finessed his lines. He’s not bored — if anything he’s too engaged — but he’s on Woody Allen autopilot, assuming that his stammer and wild arm flailings will create the illusion of amusement missing from his dialogue. As with Turturro as a gigolo, the idea of Woody as a pimp proves theoretically funny, with few actual attempted jokes.

This obviously should be funnier, and it’s a shame that Turturro decided to treat this more seriously than it deserved. On the other hand, the comedy isn’t very funny, while the more serious fare is actually borderline moving. Fiorvante shares a hesitant courtship with an Orthodox widow, who happens to look like a model (or rather, like Vanessa Paradis, who plays her). In their scenes, Turturro’s snail pacing finally makes sense, and if what transpires between them is nothing earth-shaking, the two create a touching cocoon from the rest of the film, which is otherwise populated by failed comedy, like a subplot about scary Hassidic Jews who haul Murray off to their own personalized court. It’s as though Turturro set out to make a silly comedy, then decided to make it a sweet drama instead but didn’t bother changing the script or telling anyone.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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