If it’s hard out here for a pimp, as Juicy J, DJ Paul and Frayser Boy assured us, how much harder must it be when said pimp is Woody Allen?
Surprisingly, not that hard, judging from “Fading Gigolo,” a comedy/romance/character study in which aging bookstore owner-turned-overnight procurer Woody Allen discovers that John Turturro, of all people, is as irresistible as catnip to such unlikely needy women as Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara and Vanessa Paradis.
“You bring magic to the lonely,” Paradis tells Turturro. It’s a cloying judgment that suggests it’s actually not these women but Turturro — the film’s writer and director as well as star — who is desperate for affection and recognition.
A distinctive character actor whose unusual, asymmetrical features and often jittery Italian-American presence has enlivened films by Spike Lee and the Coen Brothers, Turturro here offers a low-wattage and self-consciously “sensitive” performance that is a drag on the farcical sexiness of his story’s premise. Being his own boss, he has only himself to blame, especially because he’s no novice behind the camera: “Fading Gigolo” is his fifth feature as a director in 22 years.
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Nicely photographed in Brooklyn, Central Park and other New York locations, the movie’s pictorial authenticity and its much more than token embrace of the city’s religious, racial and ethnic diversity almost make up for its unconvincing plot and its puzzling motivations. The foregrounded story about a lonely florist named Floravente (Tuturro) agreeing to have sex for money to help out his cash-strapped buddy (Allen) is a very weird setup for a more realistic subplot in which Floravente befriends and tentatively romances — on entirely gentlemanly and nonsexual terms — the beautiful young widow (Paradis) of a Hasidic rabbi. These competing if linked narratives clash more than complement each other, and one wonders why Turturro didn’t develop two movies from notions that, in this context, remain unrealized.
“Do you have any idea what goes on inside a woman’s head?” Vergara asks Turturro at one point. From the evidence here, the answer is “No.”