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What makes a Woody Allen film?

Usually it’s something he wrote and directed and starred in, but there have been exceptions. He didn’t direct “Play It Again, Sam”; he didn’t appear in “Bullets Over Broadway” (or its current Broadway incarnation); and he didn’t write or direct “The Front.”

Yet those all feel like Woody Allen movies to some degree, and that’s again true of “Fading Gigolo,” in which he merely stars as Murray, a down-on-his-luck bookstore owner who discovers that his florist pal, Fioravanta (writer-director John Turturro), has a talent for pleasing wealthy, unhappily married women who are willing to pay for sex.

If you saw Turturro in “Barton Fink” or “The Big Lebowski,” you may have a tough time buying him as a New York gigolo (and/or Allen as his pimp). His character does admit that he’s not a beautiful man, but there’s something so genial about him that you can imagine him collecting hundreds of dollars even from Sharon Stone.

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It helps that Stone’s character is so vengeful toward her husband and enthusiastic about the prospect of a three-way — and that Sofia Vergara makes such a believable third party. Providing a platonic touch of soul is a Hasidic widow (Vanessa Paradis), who attracts the jealous attention of another party (Liev Schreiber).

This is, of course, a fairy tale, and potentially a rather sleazy one. But the chemistry is just right between Allen and Turturro, who immediately register as best friends for life, and between Stone and Turturro, whose mutual awkwardness gives way to a goofy form of passion.

John Hartl:

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