This review was originally written for Blueprint: Review.
In New York’s Jewish Quarter, Murray, a failing bookshop owner (Allen), needs money. When his dermatologist (Stone) mentions she and her friend (Vergara) have always wanted a ménage a trois, Murray sees an opportunity; he recruits his florist and general odd-job-man friend Fioravante (Turturro) to become a gigolo, and soon the money comes pouring in.
Do you ever watch a film and think it was made purely so those involved could enact what is occurring on screen? Most recent Adam Sandler films seem to be a thinly veiled excuse for the guy to bring his mates with him to a tropical locale and get paid to go, an idea they presumably stole from Couples Retreat. Here, writer/director/star John Turturro has managed to create multiple situations wherein he gets to kiss, dance with and generally have a great deal of fun with the likes of Sharon Stone, Vanessa Paradis and Sofía Vergara, all of which must have been incredibly difficult days on set, I’m sure. I can’t say I blame the guy, and I may be viewing this film a little too cynically, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Turturro came up with the idea of “Hey, why don’t I play a pimp to the most beautiful women that will let me kiss them?” before he thought about structuring a compelling narrative around the concept.
You see, the premise is more than a little daft. I don’t just mean the notion that Sofía Vergara has difficulties finding a man – her only criteria is that he be tall and not too attractive, in which case I’m 6’3” and have been told I look like Al Gore on a roller coaster, so whenever you’re ready Miss Vergara, I’ll be waiting over here. No, it’s more than that. The way Murray and Fior fall so effortlessly into the pimping game, plus the lack of any real obstacles on their mission all feels false, not to mention the silly sub-plot involves Live Schreiber’s local law enforcer, who has something of a long-standing crush on one of Fior’s clients (Paradis). He is the closest thing the story has to an antagonist, which isn’t a bad thing, but it does leave the plot a little light on drama, and considering how little comedy is evident it leaves this dramedy with not a great deal left to provide.
Sure it’s good natured, with an interesting cast (Bob Balaban, Michael Badalucco and Aida Turturro all crop up in too-minor roles, the latter of which fortunately does not play a customer to Fior, thereby avoiding the most awkward and incestuous scene in cinematic history) with some moments of humour, but there’s not enough plot to sustain a feature length picture, with side elements such as Allen’s Murray attempting to teach the neighbourhood kids baseball feeling more like padding than anything worthwhile.
It’s a shame the film didn’t work out. I’m a big fan of one of Turtrurro’s other films, Romance and Cigarettes, and had high hopes for this one too, but alas it fell flat. It means well and doesn’t offend, but it also doesn’t stand out. Other than seeing Woody Allen back on comedic form – he discusses threesomes whilst in a lingerie store, which is something I thought I’d never see – there’s not a lot else here to make it a worthwhile experience.
Choose Life 5/10