When people look back on the career of John Turturro, they cannot deny he has been one of the finest character actors to grace the screen over the past 30 years.
His career has been rooted in independent US cinema – rarely has he ventured into the mainstream.
Turturro has worked with some of American cinema’s finest directors – Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Robert Redford and the Coen Brothers have all collaborated with him.
And across a career stretching to 75 movie roles, he has been adept at comedy and drama, specialising in portraying flawed characters.
Some of his creations have been highly strung, shy, racist, insanely jealous or just insane.
He has also often upstaged more starry names onscreen.
‘Do The Right Thing’, ‘The Color of Money’, ‘State of Grace’, ‘Quiz Show’, ‘Miller’s Crossing’, ‘Barton Fink’, ‘The Big Leowski’, ‘Fearless’, ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ and ‘Transformers’ are just some of the movies John Turturro has appeared in.
But from time to time, he has gone behind the camera – picking up a Camera d’Or at Cannes in 1992 for his directorial debut ‘Mac’ about the tensions that emerge in an Italian American family when one of the brothers takes over their construction business after their father dies.
Seven years later, he directed Susan Sarandon, Beverly d’Angelo, Ben Gazzara and the great Irish actor Donal McCann in ‘Illuminata’ about a theatre troupe in turn of the century New York.
In 2005, he helmed his best known movie ‘Romance and Cigarettes’ – a foul mouthed contemporary musical with James Gandolfini as an iron worker who has an affair with Kate Winslet’s English redhead much to the disappointment of his long suffering wife played by Susan Sarandon.
Five years later, Turturro, who has dual Italian and American citizenship, directed a documentary, ‘Passione’ about Neapolitan music.
Now Turturro is back again in the director’s chair with a movie about male prostitution.
However the approach isn’t hard hitting like John Schlesinger’s Oscar winning ‘Midnight Cowboy’, laconic like Paul Schrader’s ‘American Gigolo’ or surreal like Gus Van Sandt’s ‘My Own Private Idaho’.
Instead Turturro reaches for a lighter touch with his New York comedy ‘Fading Gigolo’ in which he stars as Fioravante, a florist who is pitched as an experienced escort by his friend, played by Woody Allen, to Sharon Stone’s dermatologist when she reveals she would like a threesome.
Reluctant at first, Fioravante, who works only two days a week, agrees to meet up with Stone’s eager and unhappily married Dr Parker who insists on sampling his wares on her own before realising her fantasy.
Earning four figure sums, Allen’s former bookseller Murray soon pimps him out to other lonely women while Stone tells her voluptuous best friend and fellow Manhattan socialite Selima, played by Sofia Vergara from ‘Modern Family’, that if Fioravante were an ice cream flavour he would be pistachio.
Fioravante’s double life takes a more intense turn when Murray puts him in contact with Vanessa Paradis’ grieving Hassidic Jewish widow, Avigal.
Avigal’s visits to the gigolo’s apartment are monitored by Liev Schreiber’s Hassidic cop, Dovi who harbours romantic feelings towards her and is concerned by her behaviour.
It is only a matter of time before Dovi intervenes but will he bring Murray and Fioravante’s lucrative enterprise crashing down?
‘Fading Gigolo’ is a handsomely shot movie and a lot of credit should be given to the cinematographer Marco Pontecorvo who captures New York in all its autumn glory.
Thankfully, while it has Woody Allen in a substantial acting role, Turturro resists the temptation to ape his co-star’s storytelling style.
However, Turturro’s movie disappoints.
Despite the onscreen chemistry between him and Allen, ‘Fading Gigolo’ is too leaden footed and is woefully short on belly laughs.
The premise, while stretching credulity, offers some comic potential.
However you never get the razor sharp wordplay you would hope from a romantic comedy.
Nor does it deliver the kind of bawdy farce it threatens to turn into.
Instead, the movie just plods along – flirting with romantic comedy and farce but lacking the conviction to plump for one or the other.
While the commitment of Turturro, Allen, Stone, Vergara, Schreiber and Paradis cannot be doubted, they cannot overcome the inadequacies of Turturro’s lumbering script.
And while it is especially good to see Woody Allen back on the big screen in somebody else’s film, you can’t help recalling him in his heyday delivering one-liners with more gusto than anyone can muster here.
There may not be a more appropriately titled movie this year than ‘Fading Gigolo’ because Turturro’s film does, indeed, fade quickly.
It simply lacks the stamina required to reach its full comic potential.
(‘Fading Gigolo’ opened at the Queen’s Film Theatre in Belfast and other UK and Irish cinemas on May 23, 2014).