April 27, 2020 The Jesus Rolls (Movie Review)
No matter how definitively one ends a popular series, it will find some way to continue. Even if its creator straight-up refuses to continue the series themselves, someone else will. The Coen Brothers (Fargo 1996, Hail Caesar! 2016) said they would never make a sequel to 1998’s The Big Lebowski, but John Turturro (Barton Fink 1991, Quiz Show 1994) was interested in telling more stories with Jesus Quintana, his character in that film. The Coens may have written the character, but most of the character’s development and traits were developed by Turturro himself.
Then, in 2014, the Coens gave Turturro permission to use Quintana for an original project. Two years later, Turturro jumped into the director’s chair and filming began on The Jesus Rolls. It took another three years for the film to get released on the film festival circuit, before getting a theatrical release in Italy on October 17, 2019. American theaters would have to wait until February 28, 2020 and now, thanks to Screen Media, it will be getting a DVD release on May 5th.
If that is not odd enough, the script (written by Turturro) is based on 1974’s Going Places– a French film about two hoodlums who go on a romp of sex, petty crimes and death with a jaded hairdresser. The Jesus Rolls just replaces the hoodlums with the titular bowling enthusiast and his best friend Petey (Bobby Carnivale: The Station Agent 2003, Ant-Man 2015).
After being released from prison, Quintana joins back up with Petey and they steal a vintage car for a joyride. Unfortunately for them, the car belongs to a gun-toting hairdresser called Paul (Jon Hamm: Mad Men series, Baby Driver 2017), who chases them down. Quintana and Bobby flee the scene, joined by Paul’s shampooist- an adventure-seeking woman called Marie (Audrey Tatou: Amelie 2001, The Da Vinci Code 2006). With no place to go and nothing else to do, the three hit the road to seek new ways to get ahead and have fun.
So, it is a dark comedy farce with one of the more memorable characters from one of the best films from the 1990s. It has a reliable cast, including appearances from Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter 1978, Hairspray 2007) and Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise 1991, Neo Yokio series). Plus, the film’s French inspiration was notable for its controversial comedy stylings back in the day. What could possibly go wrong?
It helps that the film does not lean too heavily on its Lebowski connections, likely because Turturro’s permissions only went as far as Quintana. So, there is no Dude, Walter or Stranger here. If anything, it plays up its French connections with its synopsis, soundtrack and shampooist character. The edgy humor is there, including recreations of some of its more notorious scenes, but it lacks that Coen-level wit and wordplay. The film just gives viewers bare butts, butt injuries, and threesomes to chuckle over like an average American sex comedy.
Only the acting is a step above something like, say, 1999’s American Pie. Sarandon is in solid form, as are Hamm and Walken for their relatively brief appearances. Turturro and Carnivale make for a good duo and have good chemistry with each other. Tatou puts in a peppy performance too, though it feels like she is on a different wavelength from Turturro and Carnivale for much of the film. It might be in how the film plays out. The first half has much more energy than the second, more sluggish half, where it feels like it is running out of ideas for Quintana and Petey. Except that latter part is where Tatou shines best in her funniest scenes.
Does that make The Jesus Rolls good in the end? The direction is solid with some nice shot compositions thrown in there, not to mention the acting quality is high-end. Still, for a Comedy, much less a spin-off from The Big Lebowski, the laughs are limited. The film is much more aimless and relies too heavily on edginess and the charm of its leads to make up for it. Except there have been much more edgy comedies made since 1974, and ‘the Jesus’ can only go so far without something more than sex and crimes to back him up. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this film 2.5 out of 5 stars.