The Jesus Rolls, a semi-spiritual sequel to 1998’s cult classic The Big Lebowski, is a film for those who watched the original Coen Brothers comedy and became enamoured by John Turturro’s character. It’s hard not to be distracted by the sheer weirdness of Jesus Quintana, infamous sex offender and intimidating bowler. Turturro played the role curiously in a way that made audiences wonder “outside of the bowling alley, what’s life like for The Jesus?”
The Jesus Rolls is extremely light on plot, but only because it’s giving movie goers the unhinged experience of traveling shotgun with Quintana. Just as the film begins with Jesus being released from a prison sentence, he immediately dives back into crime. The ex-con surrounds himself with eccentric people who also revel in mischief. With their help, he embarks on road trips that include various robberies and sexcapades.
In terms of an actor stepping back into a fan favourite role, Turturro is exceptional. He understands that Jesus is a delusional jackass who can’t help but push his own boundaries to see how much he can get away with. Turturro casts a spell over us once again with signature lines and mannerisms that will tickle Lebowski lovers. His acquaintances feed off of Jesus’ ego which, in turn, end up fuelling the supporting performances. Even if the bit players are working with thin roles, the actors are able to ride off of Turturro’s uber confidence.
Though I like “Turturro the actor”, I have issues with “Tuturro the filmmaker and screenwriter”. He has constructed a very strange vehicle for himself that, to my understanding, is a loose remake of 1974’s Going Places (which I haven’t seen). Perhaps the choice to follow the blueprint of another movie was supposed to lend structure to an otherwise loose and ambitious project. Maybe the choice was meant to earn trust from producers and financiers to ensure that the movie could be pitched by something other than a singular quirky character. Either way, Turturro’s filmmaking isn’t disciplined enough, drawing attention to how aimless each misadventure is. The film would’ve benefited from a central goal, even if the goal was as formulaic as Jesus tracking down a distant family member or trying to rob a kingpin (it’s a bowling pun, for crying out loud).
Instead, the film gets hung up on misguided humour and muddies itself with disappointing portrayals of women. Take Audrey Tautou, for example. She plays Marie, a feisty hook-up from Jesus’ past. Tautou is strong enough to carry a film (Amélie), but the role of Marie requires her to be in various states of undress and to be passed around as a prop for the men to enjoy and then dump. There’s a running gag in The Jesus Rolls where Marie’s unimpressed with sex and can’t achieve an orgasm. “Thankfully”, Jesus is there to explain the pleasure to her. It’s difficult to grasp Turturro’s screenwriting intentions with male fantasies that are this patronizing and awkward.
The Jesus Rolls is entertaining, but my recommendation comes from an unenthusiastic place. John Turturro’s passion project is not the film people will be expecting, and that’s not a good thing.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie