Tuesday 24 March 2020

"The Jesus Rolls" (Guardian 23/03/20)

The Jesus Rolls **
Dir: John Turturro. With: John Turturro, Bobby Cannavale, Audrey Tautou, Susan Sarandon. 85 mins. Cert: 15

Some films dwindle in transit. John Turturro’s planned return to the universe of The Big Lebowski was announced four years ago with a fanfare becoming a much-anticipated spin-off from one of modern cinema’s most cherished cult items. With its belated theatrical release nixed by last week’s mass shuttering of venues, The Jesus Rolls has now snuck out on streaming platforms. All evidence would suggest key creative personnel lost faith or patience along the way: the choppy 85 minutes loosed from the edit suite comprise a sunnily indifferent caper, displaying next to none of the Coens’ visual invention, and little of their wit. At best, what you get is an amiable footnote, easily overlooked.

Turturro follows the road taken by Bertrand Blier in 1974’s bad-taste classic Going Places, replaying pivotal couplings and conversations, albeit with a sensibility too loose and goofy to push as far or as forcefully as Blier. Released from Sing Sing, bowling baller Jesus Quintana is met by old pal Pete (Bobby Cannavale), and the pair bounce around the fringes of New York state, picking up braless nympho Audrey Tautou (helpless in a 1974-era characterisation) and encountering endless cameoing celebs: Jon Hamm as an arsey coiffeur, Pete Davidson as somebody’s unclaimed son, Susan Sarandon smartly cast in the Jeanne Moreau role as a soured drifter seeking one final fling. Mostly, everyone’s driving around looking for the one compelling reason for the film to exist.

Nobody found it, though there are funny moments early on: Jesus wondering whether an endocrinologist might help with buckshot testes, and going toe-to-toe with security guard Michael Badalucco. That choppiness is the real issue. There are baffling shunts from town to country, while the middle stretch tosses up scenes with no real function or punchline and watches them land. The Coens’ original was not un-haphazard – it needed a rug to tie itself together – but it at least troubled to work up its protagonist’s Zen-like chill into an adoptable creed. Here, the same laissez-faire stance starts to look like a liability, an excuse for turning in a shrug of a film. Will this do? Lebowski cultists are bound to have strong opinions.

The Jesus Rolls is now available to rent via Amazon Prime and iTunes.

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