Writer/director/star John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo thinks it’s being cute and quirky to an almost annoying degree. That would be bad enough on its own. What makes it even worse is the fact that Turturro forgot to include any characters or anything even remotely likeable in this dull, leadenly unfunny exercise that simply thinks that saying someone is a sex worker is enough of a punchline to sustain 90 punishing minutes in a cinema.
A floral arranger and general jack of all trades named Fioravante (Turturro) has been approached by his motormouthed best friend Murray (Woody Allen) to sleep with his dentist (Sharon Stone) so he can make some quick cash to provide for his family after the closing of his bookstore and so she can test out someone for a potential threesome with her girlfriend (Sofia Vergara). Quickly realizing that the soft spoken and “old fashioned” handsome looking Fioravante has a certain something most sex workers don’t have, he becomes a full on pimp, setting up appointments for his friend. Fioravante begins to get conflicted about his not so oldest profession when he becomes smitten with a Hasidic widow (Vanessa Paradis). Things get complicated for all of them when a local Jewish neighbourhood watchman (Liev Schreiber) with eyes for Fioravante’s girlfriend gets suspicious of Murray.
Let me state in unequivocal terms that I never once remotely cared about anything that happens to any of these characters. Not a single one of them seems like a functional human being and Turturro has no clue how to create a farce – the one kind of comedy where such threadbare caricatures would actually make sense. Everyone with the exception of Allen and Vergara looks silly and seems confused (especially Schreiber who dons one of the most unconvincing hair extensions of the year). It’s almost like Turturro didn’t bother to provide anyone with a script and wished everyone the best of luck before the camera rolls.
There’s really no one else to blame here for the film’s complete misfiring other than Turturro. He couldn’t even be bothered to give himself a good character. All that’s known about Fioravante is that he’s a nice guy, he isn’t Jewish, and… well, that he’s a nice guy. All he does is smile, screw, and at one point he cooks a nice Kosher meal for Paradis. That’s literally it. Forget the fact that he’s a terrible gigolo and that Murray might be the dumbest pimp in all of pimpdom. Even on his own terms as a human being, Fioravante is so unextraordinary and uninteresting of a presence that being alone with him for more than five minutes would be enough to put anyone to sleep. So with his own lead character acting as such an indecipherable presence, Turturro hands the film off almost entirely to his admittedly talented supporting cast who can only watch as the captain goes down with the ship.
There’s precisely one scene in the film that elicits even the mildest of chuckles, and that’s when Murray gets picked up by a Jewish mob led by Schreiber’s character. That scene is funny. I wanted more of the Jewish mob because even though Turturro isn’t going for titillation with his supposedly tawdry tale, he forgot to include more funny and interesting things for his actors to do. It’s the most bafflingly aimless film of the year. It’s a premise with a very easy to pull off hook that seems overthought and underbaked at the same time.