American Gigolo is a pretty disappointment

American Gigolo Jon Bernthal Featured

Showtime’s gritty reimagining of the ‘80s neo-noir is a lackluster look at the life of a male escort.

Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo is a 1980 neo-noir starring Richard Gere as a male escort caught up in a murder investigation. The film gave the world Gere as a leading man and the iconic Blondie song “Call Me.” In Showtime’s eight-episode reimagining, Jon Bernthal takes on the role of Julian Kaye (AKA John Henderson), the titular American Gigolo. He’s living the high-paced high-society dream until the murder of one of his clients leads to his wrongful incarceration.

Convinced to confess by Detective Joan Sunday (Rosie O’Donnell; also no relation) in a bit of nasty policework that, as of episode 3, has not been sufficiently addressed, Julian spends 15 years behind bars. Then a deathbed confession and DNA testing exonerate him. Newly free, Julian returns to L.A. to visit friend/fellow gigolo Lorenzo (Wayne Brady) and try to check in on the love he left behind (Gretchen Mol). Unfortunately, Julian soon learns that it’s hard to escape your past and harder still to forge a future.  

American Gigolo Gretchen Mol
While a Gretchen Mol appearance is always welcome, it’s a bit sad it has to be in American Gigolo. (Warrick Page, SHOWTIME)

This seems like something, right? Like it could be a touching and fun look at a man trying to piece his life together? Well, sorry to disappoint, but American Gigolo isn’t here to make anyone have a good time. At times a dour look at the problem of recidivism, other times a morbid collection of abusive flashbacks, American Gigolo shudders under the weight of its self-seriousness.  

The script posits that no one could enter into a life of sex work without a tragic past and the innate desire to escape said life of sex work. By the end of episode 3 (titled “Rapture” so the audience will want to listen to that Blondie song instead), we’ve been told rather than shown several times over that Julian was so darn good at his work. Naturally, it was all a gilded lie. It doesn’t help that the most we witness of that period in Julian’s life comes in the opening credits. The work is only referred to in the vaguest of terms. Except, of course, when making sure to note that Julian only works with female clients. The script wouldn’t want us to have any misapprehensions about that.  

A quarter into a limited series is too long to watch without a reason to go on.

This is where I wish I could push something positive into this review, some tidbit about the dialogue or the performances. Unfortunately, those begin and remain aggressively fine. No one stands out in the main cast save Bernthal. Even then, that’s only by virtue of having the most screen time. Julian mopes and murmurs politely when he isn’t gazing into the middle distance, having a flashback.

American Gigolo Jon Bernthal Shirtless Veggie Shopping
Jon Bernthal selflessly reminds us all of the importance of cutting produce while shirtless.

While a great time, Flashback Julian is either having a cliche romantic sun-drenched afternoon or talking up older ladies in the way that they’re paying him for. He simply doesn’t have anything to do in the first three episodes. Worse, it’s difficult to imagine where the plot could take him. Even the flashbacks are hard to handle. It’s impossible to want to hear romantic nothings from the mouth of a man who is only in that line of work because of horrific abuse. A quarter into a limited series is too long to watch without a reason to go on.  

Of the eight episodes, Showtime provided three for review, and they were, in a word, exhausting. There’s very little entertainment to be found in American Gigolo and not nearly enough mystery to warrant its dramatic twists and turns. It’s a pretty thing to look at and very little else. Every cast member has more enjoyable work, and we can listen to Blondie songs at home. Sorry, American Gigolo, I’m hanging up.

American Gigolo begins vaguely alluding to sex work September 11th on Showtime.

American Gigolo Trailer:

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Megan Sunday

Megan Sunday is a writer, archivist, and cohost of Let’s Get Weirding: A Dune Podcast. She lives in the DC area with her family and her growing collection of horror paperbacks.

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