Filmmakers the Coen Brothers aren’t interested in sequels, it’s not their thing. But after their initial skepticism, dubiety, and indifference, they eventually relented and allowed John Turturro to reemploy Jesus Quintana, the stand out supporting character he played in their 1998 film “The Big Lebowski,” for “The Jesus Rolls.” A spin-off movie of Turturro’s own making, “The Jesus Rolls,” features the hilariously creepy bowling icon at its center. Still, connections to the Coens’ classic, spiritually and even tonally, are mostly absent. (Tellingly, the Coens are not even executive producers; their names aren’t found anywhere in the credits other than the acknowledgment that they created this main character.)
But the meandering film—written, directed, and starring Turturro— is far less interested in ‘Lebowski’ than it is reclaiming the character of Quintana for new aspirations of horniness. Taking Quintana in an entirely different direction, Turturro creates a baggy and loose remake of Bertrand Blier’s 1974 degenerate sex comedy “Going Places” (“Les Valseuses“), the initial title of Turturro’s latest directorial effort (the original itself something of an irreverent bohemian sexcapades riff on “Easy Rider” and perhaps even “Bonnie & Clyde“—not dissimilar signifiers for ‘Jesus Rolls’).
The irony level is high considering the shaggy on-the-road ‘ Jesus Rolls’ largely goes nowhere, spinning its spin-off wheels in a quixotic and debauched story about two depraved, louche lowlifes and best friends who wend their way around the outskirts of L.A, committing petty crimes, thieving, and fucking everything in sight.
Horniness so integral, ‘Jesus Rolls,’ begins with a convenient and arguably necessary retcon to cast the character as less problematic and more tolerable to modern audiences. In Lebowski, Quintana is a pederast sex offender that exposed himself to a child. Turturro uses the opening of the film— Quintana let out of prison following another infraction—to explain the entire “sex offense” was a comic misunderstanding (a young boy at a urinal, marveling at the size of Quintana’s immense schlong).
Picked up by BFF Petey (Bobby Cannavale), Jesus and his friend, also on parole, are soon criming, scamming, and conning their way in and out of every situation they find themselves in. The theft of a muscle car owned by a machismo hairdresser (Jon Hamm) soon leads them to life with the carefree and sexually liberated Marie (Audrey Tautou), who likes to shag, shares them both, even at the same time, but has unfortunately never experienced an orgasm.
Full of celebrity cameos Pete Davidson, Susan Sarandon, J. B. Smoove, Tim Blake Nelson, Gloria Reuben, Sônia Braga, and Christopher Walken, who briefly appears as an affable prison warden in the beginning of the film, sorry to see his star bowling prison league player go—Turturro has clearly called in every favor he has. And by the modest look of the film, all these famous friends worked for free. But A or B (or even C)-list acting friends, a movie does not make and “The Jesus Rolls,” while occasionally charming and guffaw-worthy, is mostly a mirthless and listless affair— debased, degenerate, and decadently outrageous things amusingly occurring every ten minutes, but none of it actually very amusing and some of it falling painfully flat.
Now, Turturro and Cannavale running a train on Susan Sarandon, who pops up in the middle of the film briefly for a threesome with the unconventional, open-minded boys, is eye-openingly provocative. And sure, it’s funny in theory. Still, in practice, not even the boning of Turturro’s libidinous, ostensibly risqué movie is particularly sexy or humorous (a suicide that punctuates it all, is rather distasteful too).
Surely an in-joke to his notorious big dick energy, “Saturday Night Live’s” Pete Davidson appears later in the film to finally make Tatou climax with his extraordinarily enormous penis. But even Tatou screaming, “I came! I came!” in celebration and then tossed into a river by the boys so she can cool down fails to provide much more than a ridiculous chortle at the absurdity and chutzpah of it all. The film has plenty of outrageous audacity but never does that transform into something compelling or even watchable.
“The Jesus Rolls” has its mandatory moments of bowling—what made the character a fan favorite in ‘Big Lebowski’ thanks to his exceptional skills on the lanes —but mostly these scenes feel like compulsory connectivity to the original and deliver no sparks or strikes. Somewhere in Turturro’s unhurried, morally untroubled comedy about two happy-go-lucky jackasses with complete disregard for common decency is a story about friendship, the liberty of unbothered sexual hangups, and the freedom of letting your freak flag fly. “The Jesus Rolls” also celebrates its independence from the tyranny of plot, pacing, and convention, but sadly, its apparent affection for its lead character—the Jesus that just can never be fucked with— is never enough. The wandering, strictly bush league movie, unfortunately, cannot reprise the unbridled strut of Quintana’s ‘Lebowski’ braggadocio, suggesting perhaps we should leave the resurrection of beloved characters to the professionals. [D+]