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Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but if you’re not also a good listener, flattery will get you nowhere.

For 50 years, neurotic comedians have imitated Woody Allen, just as Allen learned his craft by imitating Bob Hope. But Allen isn’t just a joker — he’s earned 16 nominations and three Academy Awards for best original screenplay because he understands the structural cause-and-effect that makes a movie plausible.

In trying to imitate Allen with the sex comedy “Fading Gigolo,” actor, writer and director John Turturro should have heeded his role model — who happened to be standing a few feet away. While Allen emerges from this mash-up relatively unscathed, Turturro as an implausible male prostitute gets maimed at the intersection of comedy and drama.

In the very sketchy prelude, Murray Schwartz (Allen) is shuttering his venerable Brooklyn bookstore with the help of his handyman friend Fioravante (Turturro). While packing, Murray mentions that his dermatologist confided she wants to have a threesome with her girlfriend and a suitable man. Murray thinks Fioravante would be perfect for the job — which would pay $1,000. And so, because Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara couldn’t possibly find a man in New York City who would share their bed for free, Fioravante starts a career as a gigolo.

John Turturro as a love machine? Whereas Allen would play the premise for laughs, Turturro is over-estimating his own sensitivity and sex appeal. Although his character can dance the tango and arrange flowers, he’s homely and humorless. And unlike his manager Murray, who has a large and multicultural family to support, Fioravante has no back-story motivation for doing the job.

The nadir of this nonsense is when Murray convinces a young Hasidic widow named Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) to make an appointment with Fioravante for “physical therapy.” While the gigolo carefully strips away her repressive garments, jealous patrolman (Liev Schreiber) spies on the love nest, which results in Murray getting hauled before a rabbinical court.

“Fading Gigolo” is like two different movies on an awkward blind date at a jazz club. While Allen charms us with a parody of “Broadway Danny Rose,” Turturro is off-key in his lounge-lizard riff on “The Piano.”

Score another one for the old master.


What “Fading Gigolo” • Two and a half stars out of four • Rating R • Run time 1:30 • Content Sexual content and brief nudity • Where Plaza Frontenac

Joe Williams is the film critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.