As a hardcore fan of “The Big Lebowski” I felt it was my duty to check out “The Jesus Rolls,” one of the most inexplicable movies of 2020 so far. For fans of the original 1998 Coen Brothers masterpiece, Jesus Quintana is a familiar name, an adversary of The Dude who is also a very small supporting player in “The Big Lebowski.” For reasons never quite clarified (or even justified), John Turturro who portrayed Jesus, brings the character back for a pseudo-sequel that is kind of a follow up to “The Big Lebowski,” but not quite. It’s a surprisingly saccharine and dramatic film and a pretty dull one at that.
Hours after being released from prison for good behavior, Jesus Quintana (John Turturro) reunites with his best friend Petey (Bobby Cannavale). Stealing a vintage car parked in front of an upscale salon, they hit the road for a joyride — until the car’s gun-toting owner (Jon Hamm in an abrupt cameo) catches up with them, shooting and wounding Petey. Fleeing with free-spirited shampooist Marie (Audrey Tautou is painfully miscast), Jesus and Petey begin a spiritual quest in myriad stolen cars all while committing a series of petty-crimes and engaging in a three-way romance.
“The Big Lebowski” is a near perfect comedy, but there’s no denying that Jesus Quintana was a one note supporting player with John Turturro providing his obligatory cameo for the Coens. There’s really not a ton of reason why we needed a solo film for Jesus, especially almost twenty five years after the fact. Lo and behold, though, Turturro brings us the adventures of Jesus, a man who is released from prison and has adventures that… somewhat fit within the Dude’s universe. It’s hard to place when the movie ends, and “The Big Lebowski” begins. Jesus looks much older, but there’s clear establishing that the jail time was based around Walter’s story from the 1998 movie.
It’s probably intentional, though, as Turturro has a lot more in mind for the character, which involve him going on some kind of existential journey. The writers stage a fuzzy narrative that redeems the character for us, but also never shies away from what a bastard he is. Turturro takes great pains in explaining that the whole “pedarast” incident was a complete misunderstanding, and only minutes later, Jesus “comically” tries to rape Petey in a bathroom. The movie is very much a Lebowski sequel/spin off in the first twenty minutes as we go through the usual fan service Turturro was probably pressured to check off. There’s the bowling scene, Spanish covers of pop songs, obligatory “Nobody fucks with the Jesus” declarations (ad eye roll), as well as his warning of sticking a gun up someone’s ass and shooting until it goes click.
You’d think the fan service would be a treat, but it instead comes off forced and absolutely clunky. Once Turturro gets it all out of the way, “The Jesus Rolls” opts for a surprisingly dramatic road trip film that’s more Jim Jarmusch than The Coens. This involves Jesus touching base with his mother, engaging in heavy existentialist dialogue with Petey and Marie, and a meeting with a released convict (Susan Sarandon) who seduces both men. There’s also the climax with a subtly depressing implication toward its characters. All in all, it’s a tedious and dull affair that (without the Big Lebowski connection) might have ended as a mediocre drama comedy rather than an abysmal sequel to a classic.
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