"This…this is the real me."
In 1980, Richard Gere brought depth to a character named Julian in Paul Schrader's American Gigolo. He became the first major Hollywood actor to appear fully nude onscreen, which helped catapult his career into superstardom. His performance as a high-priced male escort who becomes the prime suspect in a murder case ushered in a new wave of crime dramas, backed up by the tune "Call Me" by Blondie. It is remembered as a romantic neo-noir film that strives to be relevant in a time when some aspects of people's personal lives were just not talked about.
Cut to 2022, and Showtime has rebooted the concept into a television series called, you guessed it, American Gigolo. Created by Ray Donovan's David Hollander and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, American Gigolo is a sordid adaptation filled with distracting plot twists. Jon Bernthal takes on the Julian Kaye role as the opening credits roll to reveal a stunning Los Angeles backdrop, Bernthal driving a convertible to a gorgeous mansion with "Call Me" blaring. Living a fast life alongside wealthy women and endless swimming pools may look appealing to some, but for Julian, it is his way of life. Except for all of it happened before he was sent to prison for murdering a woman.
In the opening shots of American Gigolo, a distraught Julian confesses to a murder he knows he did not commit. Detective Sunday (Rosie O'Donnell) has everything she needs to put him away for life and convinces Julian that he did, in fact, carry out the crime. Julian is sent to prison for 15 years before exonerating him via newly discovered DNA evidence. A free man, Julian vows to pick up the pieces of his broken life and find the people responsible for framing him.
Bernthal breathes new life into a controversial character that many would find revolting. His charisma, animal-magnetism, and charming good looks get him far in life. But his sordid past haunts him at every turn as he attempts to reconnect with Michelle (Gretchen Mol), the married woman he fell in love with before he was sent to prison. Bernthal and Gabriel LaBelle, who plays the younger version of Julian, help to present a rough transition from a doe-eyed boy to a seductive lothario who is sold into prostitution as a teenager.
As intriguing a series as American Gigolo is, it is strikingly different from the original. Jon Bernthal does a fantastic job of holding together a show that is often messy and seedy. Gone are the shadowy tones of the original movie, replaced with elements of glamor and seductiveness meant to highlight the modern sex industry. In every one of the eight episodes, the series jumps from Julian's childhood in the California desert to 2006, when he is at the peak of his escort business, to his time in prison, to the present day, chaotically leaving Julian with more questions than answers. As the main character, he seems to always find his way into murder and criminal activity no matter what he does.
Rosie O'Donnell, as the detective who puts Julian away, then attempts a friendship in the present day, is confusing at best. Her stern portrayal of a no-nonsense police officer is unsettling. As the love interest, Gretchen Mol is initially convincing but becomes unnecessary over time. Hollander paints a picture of a glamorous new life for Julian that is fraught with torment and sleaze. Is Julian's new life better than the poverty-stricken one he was born into?
I say watch American Gigolo for Jon Bernthal until the seduction wears off.
Premiering on Showtime September 11th.
Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟