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'American Gigolo' Review: Jon Bernthal shoulders Showtime's bland reimagination of Richard Gere's iconic classic

Maybe if this was a redemption story of a male prostitute, the Showtime drama would have ticked better.
Jon Bernthal in a still from 'American Gigolo' (IMDb)
Jon Bernthal in a still from 'American Gigolo' (IMDb)

This review is spoiler-free.

Jon Bernthal's the saving grace of 'American Gigolo'. But the three episodes sent to the press for review have spots where his versatile acting chops and chiseled musculature aren't enough. It's also not often that Showtime's content slips up, but this one did. When Blondie's 'Call Me' plays, there's a promise, and the modern-day reimagination of Richard Gere's iconic classic looks vibrant, what with the silk suits, the beautiful women stripped and bedded by Bernthal's Julian Kaye with copious doses of charm and consummate ease.

But that's where the buck stops as the series intersperses tragedy, tender moments, and the grim reality that makes the pilot a bit of a stale gumball, maybe from a machine that gathered dust from the 80s. The show follows Kaye after his exoneration from a wrongful conviction that sees him spend 15 years in prison. And while he's pretty much panic-stricken when he's framed, Kaye gives an inkling of what prison is like in blue overalls, while rocking a picture-perfect physique with tattoos scribbled over. He plays some hoops, serves food for the inmates, and is practically Morgan Freeman's Ellis Boyd of the prison.


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Jon Bernthal in a production still of 'American Gigolo' on Showtime (Showtime)
Jon Bernthal in a production still of 'American Gigolo' on Showtime (Showtime)

Comes that call one day when the authorities give him his life back and the man who was molded into a gigolo before he could see traces of puberty navigates his life riddled with complex relationships. His former lover Michelle (Gretchen Mol), his devastated mother who regrets what she did to her son, and trying to get his life back in order becomes the focal point of the pilot. The next couple of episodes thrust him into the middle of a larger conspiracy as Detective Sunday (Rosie O'Donnell) looks to unearth the truth about the gory murder that puts Kaye in prison.

Gere's movie was what thrust him into the spotlight. Not just was it an absolute blockbuster that was thoroughly underrated, but Paul Schrader's flick also oozed charisma, chutzpah, and the 80s culture. Opinions of the film aside, Bernthal's version is a far cry from the movie giving a different look at male prostitution in the country. And, 'The Punisher' star plays Kaye with such conviction that it will make the audience come back just to admire his screen presence. There's no denying that there's a good amount of sex, passion, and love interweaved in a crime thriller, but Kaye brings out another layer to the story with his sizzling chemistry with Mol.

What lets 'American Gigolo' down is the slow pacing. While a movie adapted into a series does give room to build a world, the snail-speed makes it a bit of a drag. Add this with some clunky writing in parts that makes it hard to understand the story 'American Gigolo' is trying to tell. Maybe if this was a redemption story of a male prostitute, the Showtime drama would have ticked better. But oh well, it's here now, and hopefully, it gets better with seven seasons remaining. Season 2? We'll talk about it if it gathers as many bouquets as the brickbats that were hurled by critics early on.

'American Gigolo' airs Fridays on streaming and Sundays at 9 pm ET on Showtime.