A film review by Craig J. Koban March 29, 2020

THE JESUS ROLLS j

2020, R, 85 mins.

 

John Turturro as Jesus Quintana  /  Audrey Tautou as Marie  /  Bobby Cannavale as Petey  /  Jon Hamm as Paul Dominique  /  Susan Sarandon as Jean  /  Pete Davidson as Jack  /  J.B. Smoove as The Mechanic  /  Christopher Walken as Warden

Written and directed by John Turturro, based on characters created by The Coen Brothers

 

 

 

 

The Coen Brothers' THE BIG LEBOWSKI is arguably the biggest cult film to emerge of the last 25 years.  Their 1998 crime comedy concerned a Los Angeles based slacker and  bowling fanatic and all of his comings and goings with a rich menagerie of colorful personalities.  It's by the Coens' own admission that - despite the long lasting appeal of their film in the years subsequent to its release - they'd never do a sequel.  That's probably a wise move, especially considering that it's awfully hard to re-capture cult film/pop culture lighting in a bottle twice. 

John Turturro turned a blind eye to this bit of wisdom, which has resulted in him writing, directing, and starring in a direct spin-off film in THE JESUS ROLLS.  

It should be noted that the Coens gave Turturro permission to go ahead with this film, which continues the story of one of THE BIG LEBOWSKI's smallest (in terms of screen time), but most memorable characters in Jesus Quintana, a rival bowler to Jeff Bridges' immortal "The Dude" that had a sexual predilection towards his custom-made ball (some would say an oral fixation).  THE JESUS ROLLS isn't just a sequel to THE BIG LEBOWSKI in terms of taking its titular character out of the '98 endeavor and giving him his own storyline.  Rather compellingly, Turturro's film is really more of a remake of another film altogether that just happens to include one bit BIG LEBOWSKI player (the clear inspiration here is the 1974 Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere starring French comedy GOING PLACES, which involved a pair of crooked misfits trekking through their country and committing various acts of crime in the process).  I somewhat applaud Turturro for going against the grain of giving LEBOWSKI fans exactly what they're expecting, but the sad thing about THE JESUS ROLLS is that it's such a terribly scattershot and unfunny affair, and more than reminds viewers very early on in its running time that, usually for the better, there's a reason why some spin-off films are creatively unnecessary.  

And I can't think of another more unnecessary and forgettable spin-off than this one. 

 

 

It's clear, though, that Turturro is showing ample amounts of unbridled enthusiasm and fun in playing "The Jesus" once again, even while the paltry and loosely assembled film built around him struggles to find its footing.  As the film opens Jesus has just finished up a prison sentence in Sing Sing, and during a seriously awkward scene between himself and the warden (played by Christopher Walken, in a throwaway role), Jesus explains to him - and the audience - why his convicted charges of pedophilia were unfounded.  Yes, let's not forget that the Puerto Rican bowling fanboy was established as a child predator beforehand, which obviously would have to be addressed in any spin-off film concerning him (because, yeah, pedophilia isn't funny at all).  Turturro manages to come up with a ridiculously contrived explanation here that this vile charge was bogus, and early on gives us a would-be hilarious, but thoroughly unsettling flashback scene that shows Jesus getting into a conversation with a young lad beside him at a urinal about penis sizes.  Turturro wants us to howl with laughter at this moment.  I felt more like turning my eyes away from the screen and slumping into my seat in a state of supreme discomfort. 

Anyhoo', Jesus meets back up with one of his old pals in Petey (Bobby Cannavale) outside of the prison gates upon his release, and the pair decide that their best course of action on Jesus' first day out of the slammer...is to steal the sports car of the town's local celebrity hairdresser, Paul (an utterly wasted Jon Hamm).  Well, Petey and Jesus were just "borrowing" the car and returned it to the salon owner, but Paul pulls out a small pistol in anger and frustration and starts shooting at the bubbling duo, wounding Petey in the inner thigh and testicles in the process (this queues up an endless string of tired and obnoxious gags involving Cannavale parading around the film screaming about how much his balls hurt for the next sixty or so minutes).  Fleeing the hot headed stylist, Petey and Jesus befriend one of Paul's French assistants in Marie (Audrey Tautou), who decides to join the pair on their adventures to come.  She's a source of the film's other series of tired and obnoxious gags, in her case involving the fact that she's never had an orgasm in her life, leading her to be placed as a conquest trophy for the sexually aggressive pair she's with.   

Turturro's treatment of women in this film borders on insulting.  Jesus' mother (Sonia Braga) is quickly introduced as a whore and then is completely forgotten about.  Marie is a character that essentially exists to be pursued in the sack by either Petey or Jesus, and there's something just unsavory about seeing a good actress like Tautou trying to mine laughs out of her histrionic nymphomaniac that can't ever seem to get sexual satisfaction.  She is, more or less, a prop in this film used to cater to the sexual fantasies of the two men.  Equally problematic is another female character (played by Susan Sarandon), who plays a fellow prison parolee that hooks up with Jesus and Petey and engages in some kinky three way sex with them as a thank you for them taking her in. Her subplot, though, pays off so dark and depressingly that it left a lump in my throat.  So much of THE JESUS ROLLS seems unhealthily fixated on Jesus and Petey repeatedly having their way with these poorly underwritten women, to the point where I felt sad for that Braga, Sarandon and Tautou involved themselves in it.  The dreary undercurrent of Sarandon's arc in particular left a bad taste in my mouth and the film never really recovered after that for me. 

Then again, THE JESUS ROLLS is, when all is said and done, a meanderingly plotless affair, which may make sense considering that the criminals here kind of, without any game plan, wander from town to town in search of trouble throughout.  We get many misadventure vignettes, but too much of THE JESUS ROLLS feels like multiple SNL inspired skits shoehorned in together via some forced editing to make for something approaching feature film length.  For a film that's barely over 85 minutes, THE JESUS ROLLS felt like 185.  One ill conceived scene flimsily segues to the next, and the film rarely has a strong sense of spontaneous forward comedic momentum.  And here's another thing: The Jesus character worked marvelously in small dosages in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, which results in him coming off as mostly insufferable here when given a film all to himself.  It's to Turturro's esteemed credit that he managed to make this wacky persona a true original in the Coens' film with the scant few minutes of appearance time he was given, but here he's never really an infectiously amusing character.  THE JESUS ROLL demonstrates that more is not more.   

Again, I'll give Turturro some props for at least not trying to drive this whole enterprise on pure spin-off autopilot, but defying expectations doesn't always make for a good film, mostly because THE JESUS ROLLS seems to be so utterly lacking in the same sense of whimsy, style, and comedic chaos of THE BIG LEBOWSKI and fails to play up to the sheer absurdity of this flamboyant character.  I doubt that Turturro was originally intending for his film to come off as smugly self-indulgent, but many of the choices he utilizes with this Jesus character reeks of artistic narcissism.  And how the hell does THE JESUS ROLL have just one bowling scene in its entirety?  The sport is so completely entrenched into fabric of this character that to see it thrown to the side like a lame gutter ball will probably incense die hard fans of his last film appearance.  Ultimately, it's telling that THE JESUS ROLLS was shot four years ago and is just now seeing the release light of day.  To take a page out of his vernacular in describing the essence of this film, "You're not fooling me, man!  You might fool the fucks in the league office, but you don't fool Jesus.  This bush league psyche-out stuff!"

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