Thursday, April 17, 2014

Here's a new male sex symbol: John Turturro & Woody Allen star in Turturro's FADING GIGOLO

Who'd have thought it? John Turturro as the sexiest guy currently on theater screens (well, starting this Friday, at least). It's true. In the new movie FADING GIGOLO, the actor/director plays a part-time florist named Fioravante, whose friend and mentor, Murray (Woody Allen), begins pimping him out as a by-the-hour lover to wealthy women in need. If this sounds a little skeevy and untoward, it turns out not to be -- for a couple of good reasons. Number one is Mr. Turturro himself, who brings such warmth, kindness, honesty and -- yes -- quiet, non-pushy sex appeal to the table (and bed) that he wins you over rather spectacularly. Number two: the prostitute here is an adult male, strong but never threatening, which removes from the equation the usual fear for the welfare of the female hooker, should she encounter a dangerous john.

Oh, and did I mention that the movie is a comedy? It's often a pretty funny one, too, what with Mr. Allen playing himself (while simultaneously giving you the opportunity to see him as the little sleaze you may imagine him to be) and delivering a number of his usual funny one-liners. As writer/director, Turturro (shown above) outdoes much of Allen's work hands down. He's more interested in visuals and composition than Woody ever was (though his cameramen sometimes were).

As a writer -- are all those lines out of Allen's mouth Turturro's creations? -- the filmmaker offers up a story that explores current and important themes: the continuing disappearance of jobs and how regular folk might earn a living off something besides health care, part-time labor and those mostly non-existent corporate profits and other investments that seem to accrue only to the 99 per cent.

When Murray's dermatologist (Sharon Stone, above) remarks casually that one of her friends (Sophia Vergara, shown at bottom) and she would like a threesome, if only they knew a willing guy, Murray goes into action and up comes Fioravante, eventually servicing these gals like a pro -- only better. Ms Stone is back to looking like the glamour gal we remember, rather than the very interesting character roles she's been doing of late (Lovelace, Alpha Dog), while Ms Vergara does her usual vah-vah-voom with expected relish.

The real female surprise of the movie is Vanessa Paradis, at right, who seems to consistently surprise with each new role (compare her work in this film with that of Café de Flore and Heartbreaker). Here she plays Avigal -- a Hasidic widow, depressed and ripe for release -- and she brings to the movie its strongest performance and a character worth knowing. The role also allows us to meet her unasked-for protector, a local cop in the Brooklyn Hasidic neighborhood, played well, as always, by Liev Schreiber (below, right, manhandling Mr. Allen), who brings his own brand of pushy strength to the proceedings, nicely counteracting Turturro's quieter model.

Sure, the movie's not great (it's somehow too thin for that) and yet, scene for scene, there's not a ringer in the bunch. Performances are too on-target not to keep us glued, while the writing is generally clever enough to have our ears alert and the direction visually interesting so that our eyes don't tire.

It is particularly good to see Mr. Allen in someone else's movie once again (this doesn't happen often), and it's always good to see Turturro in just about anything (he's appearing again soon in a supporting role in the dark comedy/drama, God's Pocket -- more of which in the days to come). The accompanying music is well-chosen and delivered, and technically everything is up to snuff.

Fading Gigolo, from Millennium Entertainment, opens this Friday, April 18, in New York City at the City Cinema 1,2,3; at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Angelika Film Center.  In the Los Angeles area, the film will show at The Landmark and Pacific's ArcLight Hollywood.

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