THE JESUS ROLLS
R, 85 mins.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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!"