Warrick Page/Show Time
When I was growing up, remakes, sequels, and prequels were considered slightly dodgy — either a cash grab or an admission that you didn’t have the chops to be original. These days they’re what the world seems to embrace, be it Top Gun: Maverick, Dragon House Where You better call Saul.
The latest case is the Showtime series american gigolo. It’s a sequel to Paul Schrader’s hit 1980 film, which starred Richard Gere as Julian Kay, an upscale LA escort who is framed for murder only to be redeemed by a girl’s love. good woman, played by Lauren Hutton.
As it mixed boilerplate material with ideas of religious transcendence, the film was often silly. But it was also memorable. Possessing an expensive, production-oriented amorality, it offered the hard-hitting beat of Blondie performing “Call Me”, the image of Julian’s closet crammed with Armani clothes – the film helped launch that brand in America – and the sight of Gere preparing for the first full-face nude scene by a male star in a studio film. american gigolo was one of those Hollywood “classics” that have become legendary without being particularly good.
Aside from its title, there’s nothing mythical about the new series, which transfers Julian’s story into the 21st century. Where Schrader created a deliberately opaque metaphorical fantasy, series creator David Hollander takes a more literal approach. It plays with the original plot, trading highfalutin glitz for an explanatory backstory and conventional murder mystery.
The action begins when Julian – now played by excellent actor Jon Bernthal – is exonerated for a murder he didn’t commit and is released from prison after 15 years. Wiser and more worn, Julian does not want to return to his old slinky life. He wants to live clean, though he’s also eager to find out who framed him for the murder. It means reconnecting with people from when he was a gigolo: his mistress Olga, who brought him into the business, his escort buddy Lorenzo and his old lover Michelle – that’s Gretchen Mol in the role of Hutton – whose son is heading for serious trouble. .
Predictably, Julian’s return shakes things up. Soon there’s another murder, and before he knows it, a police detective – oddly played by Rosie O’Donnell – seems eager to blame him. No one seems willing to help Julian, including his old flame Michelle.
When I heard they were spinning american gigolo in a series I was curious but skeptical. Schrader himself called the project a bad idea, but no matter: he doesn’t own the rights to the characters. In France, artists are protected by the law known as moral right, or moral right, which means you can’t take their creations and do with them what you want. But this is America, so the series was made anyway, taking Julian’s story in a direction that Schrader – a complicated and genuinely fascinating man – would surely find banal.
Even though Julian’s backstory involves a bizarre tale of abuse — the show is laced with startling misogyny — he becomes mute himself. Where Gere exuded smug plasticine perfection – he seemingly came out of nowhere, like a sexy android – Bernthal’s weathered Julian is weighed down with regret and confusion. He has none of the pop zing that made Julian a cultural touchstone.
A reason american gigolo resonated in 1980 was that Schrader understood the direction of American culture before most people. Indeed, the film’s attention to money, consumerism and spiritual emptiness made it the first of many Reagan-era morality plays – a play that actually came out nine months before. even the election of Reagan. He remains an icon of his time.
I can’t imagine that will happen with the TV series, which relies too heavily on people knowing — and caring — about a movie made four decades ago. Then again, maybe this new american gigolo Captures our current American mood. It’s the story of a once-confident man who now wears T-shirts and drives a borrowed convertible that he can’t begin to afford. As Julian looks back on his often glowing past, he wonders exactly what happened to his life and how it all went wrong.