Actors who direct have one distinct advantage over everyone else in the movie biz: They know other actors. John Turturro wrote and directed this preposterously plotted attempt at a Brooklyn version of a French New Wave film, but he employed his real genius summoning up his cast. The obvious coup, of course, is hiring Woody Allen, who seems completely unaware how precious and slight Turturro’s story is, so he acts his stuttering socks off. A lot of minor parts go to people we haven’t seen in a while, like Sharon Stone as a horny professional woman and Liv Schreiber as a forelocked Orthodox Jewish policeman (do such cops exist?), a fool for love but chained to the tradition he’s sworn to protect. He smolders nicely in an ethnic blue-collar manner that’s hard to describe but likely the most original aspect of this film. But the best part was saved for Vanessa Paradis, Johnny Depp’s model ex, who ghosts across the screen as Avigal, a rabbi’s widow stewing in stoic loneliness.
And speaking of stew, the strangest performance belongs to Turturro as Fioravante, an enigmatic foreground for this dorky story chronicling the bittersweet sexual escapades of lifelong neighbor friends. Fioravante and Murray (Allen) find themselves short on cash. Minutes after the film opens, Murray convinces Fioravante to become a moody high-class stud for rich, lonely women in the neighborhood. You know, like you do. Turturro seems to be a bit embarrassed by his own conceit, though, and doggedly avoids any acting — and much talking — throughout the rest of the film.
The dreamlike aspect of the movie that seems pure Brooklyn is its offhand examination of cultural crossroads — Allen lives with an African-American woman and her kids, and Fioravante is an Italian lover who passes as a Jew. But the really mysterious aspect of all this is how dumb the clichés fly and yet how long the movie stays with you. It’s a silly film employing a lot of seriously good actors.