Thursday, February 27, 2020

film review: The Jesus Rolls

Directed by John Turturro

Written by John Turturro

ChinoKino score: D

Review by Allan Tong

Die-hard fans of the cult comedy, The Big Lebowski, have been salivating for a sequel for over 20 years. Sadly, only die-hard fans will seek out The Jesus Rolls, and many will come away disappointed.

The Jesus Rolls is a misguided mess from start to finish. On the surface, the film looks promising. Writer-director John Turturro is a fine comedic and dramatic actor, not to mention sensitive filmmaker. Plus, he's working with an established character that he shaped, The Jesus. So, what could go wrong with this new story about The Jesus? In this film, Jesus gets out of prison and hooks up with his old buddy, Petey (Bobby Cannavale) and together they embark on a road trip marked with criminal escapades: stealing a car, beating up folks and firing a stolen gun. Along the way, they pick up a ditzy shampooist named Marie (Audrey Tautou, best known for Amelie).

First off, The Jesus Rolls never strikes the right tone. Turturro was aiming for the French farce of Les Valseuses, the 1974 film starring Gerard Depardieu playing an amoral thug on the run. Instead, The Jesus Rolls comes off as a clumsy comedy, starring a pair of idiots who get into continual trouble. Their hi-jinks are neither funny nor suspenseful. After a while, I got tired of watching The Jesus and Petey. In fact, I got annoyed.

And why is Petey in this film, anyway? He doesn't add anything to the story or The Jesus' character. He's a shallow, one-dimensional goof. Making things worse, Turturro keeps trying to convince us that they're gay. Nothing wrong with that, but the execution is clumsy and childish. Further, he reduces Marie to a common whore who spreads her legs for any man she comes across. All three leads are superb actors, but they are sadly wasted in this movie.

I would rate this film an F if it weren't for Susan Sarandon's stunning cameo. Sarandon plays a mysterious woman who is released from prison and briefly enjoys her freedom. Like so many things in this film, it isn't clear why The Jesus hooks up with her. She just appears. Sarandon brilliantly turns her underwritten character to her advantage, milking her mystery with a mischievous smile or a threatening anecdote to a restaurant owner in the film's showstopping scene. Sarandon plays a glorious enigma and we beg to see more of her than just a few moments. Hell, I wish the entire film was about her.

Alas, it isn't. Rather — if you can sit through it — The Jesus Rolls is a hugely disappointing muddle that its collective talents cannot save. No wonder the Coen Brothers had nothing to do with it.

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