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Films I Neglected To Review: Get Them From The Greeks
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Fading Gigolo," "Locke" and "Neighbors." However, if you are looking for something really good to see, why not check out the 2nd Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival, which kicks off today and lasts through Thursday. To see what they are showing, go to www.chicagocriticsfilmfestival.com

If you have ever sat around idly thinking "Man, what I wouldn't give to see Woody Allen playing a pimp," then the bizarre comedy-drama "Fading Gigolo" may come as the answer to your extremely odd prayers. In the film, he plays the cash-strapped owner of a recently closed bookstore who, upon hearing that his sexy dermatologist (Sharon Stone) is looking for a guy for a threesome with her girlfriend (Sofia Verga) and is willing to pay handsomely for it, impulsively offers up his best friend (John Turturro, who also wrote and directed as well) for the job. After some initial hesitation, Turturro goes for it and is soon making money hand over fist for himself and Allen while satisfying any number of well-heeled women. Along the way, he crosses paths with a lonely Hasidic widow (Vanessa Paradis) and while he doesn't actually sleep with her, a relationship develops between the two that brings her out of her shell but which also attracts the unwanted attentions of a neighborhood watch leader (Liev Schrieber) who fancies her himself and who is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of the man who has somehow figured out a way to make her smile.

As a filmmaker, John Turturro tends to be at his best when he is working without a net, as he did with the wonderfully deranged musical "Romance & Cigarettes" (and if you haven't seen that one yet, you should drop everything and check it out right this instant). The trouble with "Fading Gigolo" is that it is too strange for it to be taken at all seriously and too leaden to work as a flight of fancy along the lines of "Romance & Cigarettes"--this is one of those films that needs to be either far more or far less weird than it is in order to have any chance of succeeding. For starters, the notion of Turturro as a more ethnic American Gigolo sounds funny in theory--sort of an update of the old "Fred Garvin: Male Prostitute" skit from SNL--but I fear that we are meant to take it and his magic touch with the ladies seriously. At the same time, the comedic elements also fall flat--the idea of Woody Allen tapping his inner Billy Blaze sounds funny in theory but once the initial joke of him pimping wears off, there is really nothing else for him to play with other than a few desperate one-liners. The only scenes in the film that work are the ones involving Paradis, the French actress/singer/model who turns in the most convincing and deeply felt performance on display here--the scenes between her and Turturro have a snap and emotional truth to them that is lacking elsewhere and there is a real sense of chemistry on display as well. These scenes are so impressive that they almost seem to have been brought in from another movie and I suspect that most audiences will wish that they had gone to see that one instead.


On the surface, "Locke" sounds like the kind of film that someone like Alfred Hitchcock might have once made strictly as a technical exercise along the lines of "Rope" or "Rear Window"--unfolding more or less in real time and without ever leaving the sleek automobile that is its only set, it follows a construction site supervisor (Tom Hardy) throughout one long and eventful car ride as his personal and professional lives are slowly and methodically stripped away through a series of telephone calls with his wife and family, his mistress, his boss and the increasingly frantic subordinate that he has put in charge of a massive concrete pour that seems to be spiraling out of control. The film as a whole is somewhat uneven--the screenplay is a little too forced and reliant on coincidence for it to truly feel real (and don't get me started on our hero's apparently flawless Bluetooth reception throughout) and Steven Knight is not yet that skilled as a filmmaker to pull off the trick of maintaining visual interest despite the limitations of the setting. (David Cronenberg, for example, did a much better job with similar material in his masterful "Cosmopolis.") What does undeniably work, however, is the stunningly effective central performance by Hardy. As the center of what is literally a one-man show, Hardy commands the screen throughout and whenever the material threatens to spiral into total implausibility, he brings it back to earth with nothing more than his steely glance and the sound of his voice. As a whole, "Locke" may not satisfy all moviegoers--the conceit alone will probably put off as many people as it attracts--but the power of Hardy's work simply cannot be denied.

Although they share the same name, the raucous comedy "Neighbors" has absolutely nothing to do with the 1981 John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd film of the same name. For one thing, the earlier title, a bizarre and woefully underrated black comedy that proved to be Belushi's last film before his untimely death, was, despite its awful reputation, an ambitious and oftentimes hilarious movie and those are phrases that do not immediately leap to mind when I think about the current monstrosity. In it, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play a couple of new parents whose lives are thrown into upheaval when a wild fraternity moves in next door to them. At first, they try to be cool but when the noise becomes intolerable, they call the cops to complain and set off a war with the frat leader (Zac Efron) that quickly escalates into increasingly labored lunacy involving property destruction, Robert DeNiro impersonations and outright violence before coming to its embarrassingly pat conclusion.

I know people who genuinely found this film to be amusing but for the life of me, I cannot understand what they see in it. The whole thing is incredibly slipshod (the screenplay attempts to explain why a frat is allowed to move into a residential area and why no one else complains about late-night bacchanals that would have made Caligula blush but does it so ineptly that it probably would have been better if they hadn't), the raunchy jokes are forced and unfunny (with gags involving rape as a punchline (twice), a dildo fight and a baby playing with a discarded condom), all of the characters are decidedly unlikable (even our so-called heroes are self-absorbed as individuals and borderline neglectful as parents) and the serious-minded moments are handled so leadenly that they might as well have a subtitle flashing "AUTHOR'S MESSAGE" flashing during them. There are a bunch of good actors here and there is a flash every once in a while of the kind of film that it could have been--a black comedy about being dragged kicking and screening from the last vestiges of youth into full adulthood--but whenever it threatens to get interesting, director Nicholas Stoller steers it back towards forced pop-culture references and half-hearted slapstick. In other words, "Neighbors" is no "Animal House"--hell, it is barely even "Old School."




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originally posted: 05/09/14 11:57:19
last updated: 05/09/14 12:12:10
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