Thursday, September 08, 2022

American Gigolo, on Showtime

The original 1980 Richard Gere film was the first of the super-slick blockbusters Jerry Bruckheimer has produced, but it still delved into a gritty criminal underworld hidden from polite society, the way Paul Schrader often did in his best films. For the sequel-ish series, Bruckheimer is still on-board as an executive producer, but Schrader was cut out of the process. At least he gets credit for creating the characters. Even if Richard Gere were not a Tibetan Buddhist and an outspoken critic of the CCP’s human rights abuses (very much to his credit), he would still be a little too old to play Julian Kaye, the high-class hustler. Despite all the fudging and retconning, creator David Hollander manages to channel the vibe of Schrader’s film pretty well in American Gigolo, which premieres tomorrow on Showtime.

It still starts with Giorgio Moroder & Debbie Harry’s “Call Me,” because it would be crazy not to. You maybe thought Lauren Hutton’s conscience finally spurred her to alibi Richard Gere at the end of the source film, but apparently it didn’t really happen that way. Instead, Det. Sunday discovered Kaye asleep next to the dead body of a client and convinced him to confess, the way they always did in
NYPD Blue. Fifteen years later (in the mid-2000s) a terminally ill hitman makes a deathbed confession, which DNA-testing confirms.

Suddenly, Kaye is free and exonerated. So, who set him up? Frankly, Sunday seems more interested in that question than he is. Kaye kept in shape while serving his time, but he is not eager to go back to work for his old procurer, the notorious madam known as “The Queen.” As we learn in flashbacks, he had good reasons to resent her, even before his “troubles.” On the other hand, he would kind of like to see his “special client” Michelle Stratton (previously played by Hutton), but life with her rich and controlling husband has been hard for her.

There is a lot of flashy excess in
American Gigolo, which is sort of the point (presumably, much of Kaye’s wardrobe is still Armani). The distinguished-looking Gere is probably too distinguished to play Kaye in his late thirties-ish, but Jon Bernthal is a spookily close likeness for him. Incidentally, there are a few Buddhist references in the first three episodes provided for review, which would be cool if they were intended as a hat-tip to Gere (seriously, without him, this series probably wouldn’t exist).

Bernthal is a little tougher and steelier than Gere was in the film, but that rather makes sense, since his Kaye has just done fifteen years of relatively hard time. In a gender-flip hardly worth noting, Rosie O’Donnell takes over from Hector Elizondo as Det. Sunday. In fact, she is one of the best aspects of the show, eschewing her regular shtick, in favor of dry sarcasm and world-weary cynicism.

Gretchen Mol is neurotic and high strung, but still somewhat Huttonesque. Sandrine Holt adds a lot of elegant ambiguity as Olga, a.k.a. “The Queen,” while Lizzie Brochere is spectacularly villainous as her femme fatale successor, Isabelle. Wayne Brady also nicely plays against his game show host image as Kaye’s slightly dodgy friend and former co-worker, Lorenzo.

Despite Holt’s intriguing presence, the frequent flashbacks to Kaye’s formative years as an underage teen gigolo get tiresome. However, Hollander (who served as showrunner for
Ray Donovan) manages evoke the throwback vibe of vintage Bruckheimer films and the original Miami Vice series—and being on Showtime means he can do it with a good deal of nudity. Old school cineastes might be put-off, out of respect for Schrader, but it really is compulsively watchable—albeit in a guilty pleasure kind of way. Recommended for the style and the sleaze, American Gigolo kicks-off tomorrow (9/9) on Showtime.