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'Fading Gigolo' review: John Turturro-directed mess one of Woody Allen's recent best

Woody Allen, left, and Liev Schreiber in a

Woody Allen, left, and Liev Schreiber in a scene from "Fading Gigolo." Credit: AP / Jojo Whilden

"Fading Gigolo," written and directed by its star, John Turturro, is a lighthearted movie that arrives in theaters with heavy baggage.

It's a sex comedy featuring Woody Allen who, if you hadn't heard, was recently accused again of child molestation by his adoptive daughter. What's more, Allen is cast in the potentially unsavory role of a pimp. Granted, he's a lovable nebbish named Murray who's renting out a perfectly willing middle-aged man, Fioravante (Turtorro), a part-time florist who needs the cash. Still, Turturro's movie, intended as little more than a quirky romance, now runs the risk of looking like an exercise in poor taste.

Nevertheless, "Fading Gigolo" comes off as a charming jumble of sweet nothings and gentle chuckles. As for Allen, whatever your views on him, he delivers one of his best performances in years, blending his usual shtick (Zoloft jokes, philosophical asides) with his rarely tapped skills as a character actor. "Fading Gigolo" may be Turturro's movie, but Allen steals it away.

The plot is an improbable confection: Murray, the owner of a failed bookshop, overhears his dermatologist, Dr. Parker (a very good Sharon Stone), musing about a threesome with her gorgeous friend Selima (Sofia Vergara). "I thought of you," Murray tells Fioravante, and a partnership is born. Fioravante -- chivalrous, thoughtful, good at back rubs -- soon finds himself in demand.

"Fading Gigolo" is essentially an upbeat "Midnight Cowboy," but it's also impossibly scattered. Halfway through, a Hasidic woman, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), begins frequenting Fioravante's boudoir, and a serious romance develops. But the movie also swerves into farcical Coen brothers territory when Murray is abducted by angry Hasids ("I've already been circumcised!") and grilled before a temple court. Bob Balaban plays his defense lawyer; Liev Schreiber plays a member of the local shomrim.

Wait -- why are we grappling with cultural taboos and female oppression among the Williamsburg Hasids? What happened to the "Gigolo" part of this movie? Who's "Fading?" Turturro has many dots that he never connects here. If you can overlook these and other issues, "Fading Gigolo" has some modest rewards to offer.

PLOT An average guy turns to the world's oldest profession.

RATING R (sexual content, language and brief nudity)

CAST John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis


BOTTOM LINE A charming mess from writer-director Turturro, though it's Allen, in a rare acting-only role, who provides the laughs.

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