Sexy premise, tepid movie

Fading Gigolo (R21)

Comedy/90 minutes/Opens today

Rating: 3/5

The story: Businessman Murray (Woody Allen) is short of money and persuades friend Fioravante (John Turturro) to become a gigolo. The florist agrees after much persuasion and meets clients Dr Parker (Sharon Stone) and Selima (Sofia Vergara). He also gets to know the shy Orthodox Jewish widow Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) and while their relations remain chaste, he begins to develop feelings for her, much to the dismay of her close-knit community, including jealous cop Dovi (Liev Schreiber).

Memory is an odd thing. The Media Development Authority (MDA) has passed this film with no cuts but with the strictest rating of R21, for, among other things, a scene with a menage a trois that contains simulated sex. Breasts and buttocks are visible, says the MDA on its classification website.

This reviewer cannot recall having seen any body parts or, in fact, any kind of sex at all, either because the scene is so fleeting, or perhaps because the general languid warmth that pervades this work saps the eroticism from even the most torrid bedroom scenes.

Most likely, it is due to the latter reason.

Writer-director and male lead Turturro, the actor known for his parts in the Coen brothers films The Big Lebowski (1998) and O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000) as well as for playing Agent Simmons in the Transformers franchise, has something else on his mind than sex, in what at first glance appears to be a raunchy sex farce.

The result might be disappointing for anyone expecting to see the manic, bug-eyed Turturro, the human cartoon character hired for his ability to be at his funniest when his character is on the verge of losing his mind.

Turturro plays Fioravante, the florist with the gift for pleasuring women, as a fussy, dour man, as if in reaction to all the times when his character had to dart about, sweaty, screaming and slamming doors.

And it is the same with Paradis as the Orthodox Jewish woman for whom he pines; she also spends much of her screen time inside herself.

Luckily, it is not all about these two tightly repressed persons coming out of their shells over the course of the film's brisk 90 minutes.

Supporting player Allen, playing good pal and pimp Murray, is given permission to be that Woody Allen from his most popular films, and he grabs at the chance to be as neurotic and wheedling as he can.

Stone and Vergara, playing two clients of Fioravante the gigolo, steal the show as the powerful women uninhibited about buying what they need, when they need it.

In other words, the story pussyfoots around the central notion of a man who sleeps around for money so much that one wonders why the business of sex for sale was even incorporated into the story; perhaps Turturro is saying that if the physical body relaxes into itself, the heart and mind will follow.

If that is the case, the journey from point A to point B might have been more direct, though given the film's lush visuals and many iconic New York settings, it would probably not have been as pretty.

This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.

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