Fading Gigolo is the fifth film directed by John Turturro, who has north of 75 acting roles to his credit. Turturro stars here, too, along with Woody Allen, and it seems the tables have turned for the senior lead. This story of a failed bookstore owner who begins pimping out his friend to aging socialites feels like something Allen might have directed, but the role is his first without any behind-the-camera involvement since 2000's Picking Up the Pieces. If the premise sounds vaguely familiar, you might have been a fan of HBO's "Hung", which shares more than a few plot points with Fading Gigolo. The story here is not especially strong, and I suspect supporting actresses Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara signed on just to work with Turturro and Allen. That is understandable, but Fading Gigolo left me twiddling my thumbs despite a short 90-minute running time. Threadbare characters, a lack of conflict and hit-or-miss comedy make this a disappointment.
If you have seen a Woody Allen film you know the director's on-screen personality, and Allen brings his expectedly nervous charm as Murray, a Jewish man living with an African-American woman and her children after his bookstore is shuttered. Murray's dermatologist (Stone) one day reveals that she wants to have a threesome with her friend Selima (Vergara) and a to-be-determined man, and asks Murray if he knows someone who might fit the bill. He offers the sexual services of friend Fioravante (Turturro), who is initially displeased with Murray's decision to serve him up to the wealthy doctor on a platter. The menage-a-trois discussions stall, so Murray decides to hawk Fioravante to other less inhibited women, and begins building a gigolo empire in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The relationships and narrative feel a bit false - almost twee - and I did not buy the romantic tango. Some of the material with Stone and Vergara is borderline camp, and Turturro, bless his heart, feels like a novelty, bachelorette party stripper for cougars when placed in front of these gorgeous women. Fading Gigolo floats the idea that the actor's ethnicity and accent sell the package but it never paints Fioravante as particularly irresistible or deserving of all the cash being thrown in his direction. The film is, at its heart, and odd-couple buddy comedy. Had Turturro's script focused more on the Murray-Fioravante dynamic, Fading Gigolo might have been a better, funnier film. As it stands, each character does his own thing and only occasionally passes into the other's sphere of influence. Then there's the semi-distracting side story of the neighborhood patrolman (Liev Schreiber) in love with the widow (Vanessa Paradis) of a Hassidic rabbi. The film is too shallow for these character injections to work well. They are not cohesive, and instead feel like an afterthought.
Although not one of my favorite actors, Turturro rarely gives a bad performance, and both he and Allen are perfectly adequate here. Turturro is a decent, unflashy technical director, and Fading Gigolo is competently lensed and edited. Most of the problems lie in the narrative, which never settles on a tone. Not funny enough to be a comedy and lacking dramatic substance, Fading Gigolo is less a cinematic fusion than a mess. It is telling that the most emotional scene is an intimate moment between Fioravante and the aforementioned widow, who has not felt a romantic touch since her husband's death. But this isn't Witness. Another film, another time; more focus and less wandering, please.
The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image from Millennium exhibits strong detail, both in close-ups and the outdoor wide shots in Williamsburg. Texture is strong, and the image reveals intimate facial features and the far corners of the interior sets. Black levels are good, with only a bit of crush evident in a fire-lit apartment. Color saturation is also good, and I noticed no issues with banding or edge enhancement.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is not especially dynamic given the material but is perfectly respectable. Dialogue is clear and without distortion, some light ambient effects creep into the surrounds, and the score is nicely balanced across the sound field. A 2.0 Dolby Digital mix is also available, as are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in a standard Blu-ray case, which is wrapped in a matching slipcover. Included are an Audio Commentary by John Turturro and several Deleted Scenes (11:01 total/HD).
Director/writer/actor John Turturro's Fading Gigolo misses the mark, which is disappointing given the talent behind and in front of the camera. Woody Allen, Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara also star. Allen plays a failed bookstore owner who pimps out Turturro's Fioravante to aging socialites. The film never settles on a tone, and the odd mishmash of drama and comedy never forms a cohesive whole. Rent It at most.