The desire to be a filmmaker and the talent to be a filmmaker do not always coexist in the same package, and one's success in one area of filmmaking doesn't necessarily translate into other areas. The case in point hero is John Turturro, a wonderful, smart, hard-working actor with an enviable Rolodex whose work as a film director has mostly been mired in awkward, embarrassingly half-baked projects wasting interesting premises and ideas.

     In many ways, the problem with Mr. Turturro's work is not in the conception but in the execution; as the would-be Dennis Potter-ish musical Romance and Cigarettes suggested, the actor tends to cram far too much into films whose meagre, flimsy construction can't support such over-egging. Fading Gigolo is more of the same, with enough ideas to fill two or three films uneasily balanced on top of each other and cancelling each other out. It's a failed attempt at a NYC fairy tale that aims for Paul Auster whimsy or Jim Jarmusch cool but ends up falling flat on its face.

     For all that, it must be said that neither this film nor his previous work are vanity projects; though here Mr. Turturro also takes the nominal lead role of Fioravante, a struggling New Yorker jack-of-all-trades, Fading Gigolo isn't a one-man-show but an ensemble piece where the actor/director/screenwriter spreads the love around a stellar, and very unlikely, cast. It's in that cast that lies the director's ace up his sleeve: the presence of Woody Allen in one of his rare acting jobs outside his own films, as the engine that sets the plot rolling, Murray, a bookseller and crafty salesman about to close up shop that entices Fioravante to become a Latin lover for hire for two women looking for a ménage à trois. (The two women are Sharon Stone and Sofía Vergara, as well-off straight Manhattanites and best friends.)

     Essentially, Mr. Allen plays a variation on himself (no stretch there), and is the "Jewish chorus" deus ex machina that makes all the characters collide. Not only does Murray get himself a new source of income as Fioravante's "pimp", but also hooks him up with, of all people, Orthodox Jewish widower Avigail (Vanessa Paradis - no, really), who comes at first for a back massage and ends up braving her community's disapproval (and especially that of the local policeman who pines for her from a distance, played by Liev Schreiber) to befriend the unlikely gigolo.

     Ethnic farce, sweet-natured romance and celebration of New York's melting-pot thus collide in what could have looked good on paper but turns out to fall entirely flat: Mr. Turturro never finds the correct tone to make it all work. Fading Gigolo is too gritty to work as a fairy tale, too farcical to work as romance, too realistic to be whimsical, too fanciful to be taken seriously; flitting uneasily between the sweet and the raunchy, the chaste and the raucous, and wasting in the process the best efforts of a cast eager to join in the fun. It's an amiable, well-meaning but utterly misguided and occasionally embarrassing effort.

USA 2013
90 minutes
Cast John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber, Sharon Stone, Sofía Vergara
Director and screenwriter Mr. Turturro; cinematographer Marco Pontecorvo (colour); designer Lester Cohen; costumes Donna Zakowska; editor Simona Paggi with Robert Frazen; producers Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte, Bill Block and Paul Hanson; production company Antidote Films
Screened May 23rd 2014 (distributor press screening, NOS Alvaláxia 1, Lisbon)


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