Monday, March 9, 2020

Movie Review: The Jesus Rolls

The Jesus Rolls (2019) * ½ / *****
Directed by: John Turturro.
Written by: John Turturro based on characters by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen and stories and characters by Bertrand Blier.
Starring: John Turturro (Jesus Quintana), Bobby Cannavale (Petey), Audrey Tautou (Marie), Susan Sarandon (Jean), Pete Davidson (Jack), Jon Hamm (Paul Dominique), J.B. Smoove (The Mechanic), Christopher Walken (Warden), Michael Badalucco (Security Officer Barley).
It is usually a bad idea to take something that worked brilliantly in a small dose, and try and make it work as a larger one – and The Jesus Rolls is just the latest example of this phenomenon that includes almost any movie based on a SNL sketch and the Minions. Turturro’s character is The Big Lebowski – Jesus Quintana – was a brilliant comedic presence, in large part because he only had a couple of scenes, and because Turturro’s big, brash, over-the-top comedic performance fit in so well with all the craziness that the Coen’s filled that movie with. In that very short period of time, Jesus became an icon. Now, 22 years later, Turturro sought, and received, permission from the Coen’s to take that character and spin him off into his own movie. Not only that, but he places him inside a remake of Bertrand Blier’s Going Places (1974) – a film I have not seen. The result is pretty much a disaster.
I think Turturro wants to make us like Jesus, so one of the first things he does is explain away his status as a sex offender that The Big Lebowski as all pretty much a misunderstanding. From there, we get Jesus being released from prison. He almost immediately falls back in with his best friend Petey (Bobby Cannavale) – and the pair of them start their own little crime spree. It’s fairly lowkey stuff – stealing cars, etc. – but they keep going. Soon they are joined by Marie (Audrey Tautou, doing everything she can to inject some life into this movie one way or another) – a hairdresser who says she sleeps with everyone so as not to make anyone feel left out, but has never had an orgasm.
I wonder if what Turturro really wanted to do is remake Going Places for some reason, and felt the only way he’d be able to do that is if he threw in his Big Lebowski character into the mix – the massive cult status of that film assures that The Jesus Rolls will be nothing if not a curiosity piece for the legions of fans of that film. But if that’s the case, it’s hard to think why Turturro wanted to do that. That film, from by understanding, is about two young men rebelling against society – a French Easy Rider as it were – and Turturro and Cannavale are not exactly young, and in the film, they aren’t really rebelling against society either. They’re just kind of outsiders from society who don’t seem to want to fit it, or really try. For all of the craziness in the film too, both of them – especially Turturro – seem bored.
There are tonal shifts in the film that don’t really work – like Susan Sarandon, who enters the films and leaves it in a few minutes, but is actually quite poignant when she’s in it (you never believe she’d hook up with these two idiots, but whatever). I liked Tautou more than most seem to – sure, she is going over the top by a mile, but it’s the kind of movie and role that requires that of an actress, and she is more than willing to give everything she has to Turturro and this film.
But whatever Turturro was shooting for with this film, he doesn’t hit it. In the first few scenes of the movie, he seems to want to assure Big Lebowski fans that this is the same Jesus they love – he gives a kind of greatest hits package in those scenes, doing his most famous line, liking the bowling ball, etc. Then, he goes off in a different direction. A bait and switch like this can work – but in order for it to work the direction the film ends up going into is meandering and dull – with scenes that don’t work as individual scenes, and certainly don’t come together in any meaningful way. It’s a mystery as to why Turturro waited 22 years to make this.

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