The Jesus Rolls (2019)

Starring: John Turturro, Bobby Cannavale, Audrey Tautou, Susan Sarandon, Pete Davidson, Jon Hamm, Christopher Walken, J.B. Smoove, and Tim Blake Nelson
Grade: D-

There is not a single moment in The Jesus Rolls where it gave me a good enough reason as to why it exists.


Today is the day Jesus Quintana (Turturro) is released from Sing Sing. Before he leaves, he has a meeting with the Warden (Walken) who reminds him that one more strike will have him locked up for good. He rattles off his rap sheet to remind him, with the last one being indecent exposure. In a flashback, we see Quintana pissing at a urinal next to a child. The kid compliments him on the size of his dick, and he replies that he has to have special underwear because of it. Even so, the size doesn’t make a man. It takes balls. As he turns to say this, another man gets out of his stall and witnesses this whole exchange. Going back to the meeting, Quintana says it was bullshit he got six months for essentially taking a piss. The Warden does seem to agree by saying sometimes people overreact, and he notes Quintana didn’t do it again. Quintana doubles down and vehemently states that he’s not a sex offender. Changing the subject, the Warden thanks him for helping the Black Sheep win a correctional state bowling championship, and Quintana leaves on good terms.

Waiting for him outside is his best friend Petey (Cannavale), and they head into town soon after. After looking through the window of beauty salon place Paul Dominique’s and seeing Paul Dominique (Hamm) himself at work, Quintana notices the nice muscle car parked across the street. Even though Petey reminds him they’re both on parole, Quintana goads him into helping steal it because he knows Petey has a screwdriver. Quintana drives straight to his mother’s (Sônia Braga) house, interrupting her sex with some guy named Frank. Quintana can’t believe she’s still doing stuff like this at her age and forces her to give Frank his money back. Once he scares Frank off and Quintana tells his mother to clean up and such, the three have some coffee and reminisce now that he’s out. Following this, Quintana and Petey go back to Paul Dominique’s and drop the car off in the same spot they stole it from. Once they exit the car, Dominique approaches them with his French girlfriend/employee Marie (Tautou). As he explains that this is the third vintage car he’s had stolen in under a year, he points a gun at the two. Dominique tells Marie to call the cops. She throws it back on him, so he threatens to fire her. Realizing she’s an old friend, Quintana greets Marie, and they excitedly catch each other up on their lives. Dominique continues to threaten them, prompting Petey to start running. Dominique shoots at him several times. One bullet connects and hits him in the ass. Immediately after, Quintana disarms Dominique and beats him down. Marie takes the gun and goes with Quintana, who steals the car back and has Petey jump in the back seat. He drives the car straight to a chop shop to switch into a different car. He meets up with the Mechanic (Smoove) he’s friends with to make a deal, and the Mechanic agrees to make the switch for a haircut from Marie.

Following this, Quintana drives Petey to the building of Dr. M. Mudd, endocrinologist. Getting inside and knocking on the door of the private office of Dr. Howard Raines (Nelson), Petey is let in and immediately taken to an operating table. Quintana slides in during the commotion because the door is left open. He threatens Raines with his gun to fix Petey. At the same time this is happening, Marie cuts the Mechanic’s afro substantially. At Raines’s office, he tells Quintana that Petey will need a transfusion, so he has to get some blood. Quintana tells him to wake up his wife and have her do it. Eventually, they get the bullet out of Petey, with Raines explaining that had the bullet went a little to the left, he would have burst a testicle. Next, Quintana asks Raines if he has any cash. Though he says he doesn’t, his wife admits they do and has him give Quintana money from a drawer. Then, she gives him antibiotics to give to Petey. Upon getting back to the chop shop, the Mechanic complains about the bald fade Marie gave him but changes his tune once Quintana tells him it looks good. In the morning, Petey has a new plan. Since Dominique loves his car and Petey still wants revenge, he wants to pitch it on the side of the road. The cops will find it and will deliver it to Dominique, and Dominique will get it back completely intact. Unbeknownst to him though, Petey will saw through the front axle almost fully, so one wheel is hanging on by a thread. When Dominique eventually drives it, the wheel will fly off at the most random time possible and cause a catastrophe. Quintana is indifferent but agrees to it, so they have the Mechanic saw the front axle.

Quintana, Petey, and Marie drive in the other car to a convenience store, so Quintana can pick up some basic essentials. After getting harassed by the security guard but giving it right back to him because he hasn’t done anything yet, he takes his groceries to the car and sticks the whole cart into the backseat and drives off, with the security guard too slow to react in time to get him. The three have a nice lunch together at an outside restaurant. When Marie goes to the bathroom though, cops pull up to the parking lot. Because of this, Quintana and Petey skip out, leaving Marie alone and with the bill. Petey is worried about her, but Quintana isn’t, noting that she’s never been to jail, so she’s good. As Quintana and Petey get chased away after they steal some bikes, they land a jeep and drive it until they’re stopped by a train. Then, they somehow get onto the moving train. At the same time, Marie runs away from the waiter. Quintana and Petey exit the train at some random stop and go into the station to see a young woman breastfeeding her child. For some reason, Quintana starts flirting with her, as if this is the right time. Eventually, Marie takes a train and finds the two at the station. She flips out on them for deserting her after she dropped her job and life for them. Shortly after, they’re all on the train together and continue their aimless journey. However, now Quintana and Petey’s names are in the papers, so they’ll have to watch out at every turn.

Will this stop them from criminal activity? No, but they’ll live a little more cautiously.

My Thoughts:

We all love The Big Lebowski, but some movies are just perfect the way they are. Even if someone has an idea on how to expand on the story or certain characters, it doesn’t mean it should see the light of day. Such as the case with The Jesus Rolls. Taking his small, albeit popular, supporting character from the 1998 cult classic and making him the star of his own spinoff film, John Turturro writes and directs this unneeded and unofficial sequel to the eclectic comedic masterpiece he was lucky enough to be a part of this first time around without the involvement of the creators themselves, mostly because they wanted nothing to do with it and knew it would ruin what they already made. In doing so, Turturro completely changes the genius characterization and initial portrayal of the character to make Jesus Quintana a protagonist we’re willing to get behind for his film, and it disrespects the vision of The Big Lebowski entirely. On top of that, this is also a remake of 1974’s Going Places and follows the plotline heavily to less satisfying results. So, Turturro has taken a character he didn’t create, changes everything about him for the sake of this movie and inserts him into a story we’ve already seen. Why was this made? Why was he so adamant in developing this movie with such an uninspired concept, with nothing new to offer from a creative or artistic standpoint?

Fans of The Big Lebowski should steer clear of this one. As funny as John Turturro was in the Cohen Brothers’ film, he was funny because he left the film before the joke wore thin. He was eccentric as they come, would lick a bowling bowl before hitting a strike, and would move, carry himself, and act like a maniac. Also, he was a registered sex offender. It was part of the joke and only added to the outrageously funny ideas the Cohens came up with all those years back. Right in the opening of The Jesus Rolls, we see everything wrong with John Turturro’s new and evolved take on the character that completely disrupts the vision of what was originally created. Here, he changes everything we know about the character, who he was, and what made him funny in The Big Lebowski. This is a strange tactic considering whoever tuned into this movie in the first place was more than likely a fan of its predecessor. To explain why he’s not all bad, they do this revisionist flashback of Quintana “wrongfully” accused of indecent exposure while talking to a child at a urinal. Following the flashback, he adamantly explains that he’s not a sex offender, as if this is where the draws the line and we’re supposed to think he’s an alright guy now. The fact that he was referred to as such is what made him funny in The Big Lebowski and made sense of his weirdo antics and odd sexual energy. In this spinoff, it’s almost as if Turturro is trying to turn him into an antihero and the only way to do that with a criminal in the eyes of the audience is to take away the funniest thing about him and create a new context to explain why he was accused as such years ago. Even so, it’s stupid, the characterization of Quintana is less interesting as a result, and the flashback isn’t even funny. It’s just odd. Why is this kid complimenting him on the size of his penis? Did John Turturro really think this was funny enough to keep in?

Later, he continues his criminal actions while trying to act like a “white knight” at random times like when he tells Petey “You should never wish another person dead” when Petey speaks of Paul Dominique, despite Quintana regularly threatening to shoot people up the ass and threatening others at gunpoint. You could argue that this is supposed to show the irony in Quintana’s character, but there are so many moments throughout where it’s hard to tell if they’re trying to be ironic, or if we’re going for a serious portrait of a career criminal with a fucked-up life. The lone scene with his mother, which was all kinds of uncomfortable, is a major reason as to why the message is too muddied to make sense of what follows, especially with his mother’s line delivery of how “No one fucks with the Jesus” like it’s this inspirational quote of sorts.

The rest of the movie is Quintana continuing his criminal exploits for no reason at all. As he does so, he encounters a random assortment of characters and stars that were somehow convinced to be a part of this production.

This maybe the only notable positive about the film. For such a below-average movie, the cast is pretty decent. Though J.B. Smoove doesn’t say anything remotely funny (which seems to be the norm for him), Tim Blake Nelson is just thrown as a utility guy, and Christopher Walken is brought in to say a bunch of ridiculous things in the opening because it’s something he’s good at, Susan Sarandon and Pete Davidson did a decent job as the mother/son combination who never meet on camera. Sarandon’s dark portrayal of a lifelong criminal who just wants one last run before she calls it quits is surprisingly well done amidst the awfulness of the rest of the movie, and the scene in which she has a quiet moment to herself on the beach in appreciation to her short-lived freedom is well done. The section of the movie she’s in is probably the best part of it and suggests that it could have been better if the story was taken a bit more seriously. Pete Davidson’s inclusion was humorous as well. The fact that the known Hollywood playboy is the first character to make Marie cum is amusing in a meta sort of way. Also, his initial introduction to Quintana and Petey upon being released from prison was the only scene to get a legitimate laugh out of me, with Petey trying to lie about his mother’s circumstances and the low-key unhinged Jack having a lot of questions about the matter. My only question was what was in the briefcase that he wouldn’t let anyone touch? It’s pretty odd to include it and make it a big deal about it without ever explaining its importance. If it had no relevance to the story or the character’s personality, why include it at all?

The Jesus Rolls is my first introduction to French actress Audrey Tautou and she was actually quite amusing, all things considered. With her accent and enthusiasm in the role, she is able to make her character one of the lone bright spots of this otherwise unnecessary film. The range of Bobby Cannavale was also on full display, as we’ve never seen him play a role quite like this. Though the screenplay doesn’t give him much to work with to make what could have been a decent supporting role funny, seeing him in such a different light should show people that he has a lot more to offer as an actor. Actually, the same could be said for Jon Hamm too. The idea behind the character is amusing, but he doesn’t say or do anything that garners a laugh. Again, attribute this to John Turturro’s poorly written screenplay. The ideas are there, it’s shaped in a humorous matter, and the cast is decent, but one read through should’ve told you how unfunny this was. Regardless, both co-stars (and basically everyone in the movie) outperform Turturro in every stretch of the imagination, despite Quintana’s actions guiding the plot. This is the other biggest problem with this spinoff. I’d like to think Turturro was trying to evolve the character since he’s gotten older, but I think we’re giving him too much credit. This can’t be the case because there are so many scenes where he has this random burst of energy and screams “Woooo!” to try and remind us of who he is and why he was popular in the first place. However, he ruins these moments because the majority of the film is too toned down, and he just attempts the accent Quintana had twenty years ago. Funnily enough, his attempt this go-around sounds fake as hell compared to how he did it in 1998 when he was fully committed to the outlandish character. Now, with the power to do whatever he wanted with it, he seems less committed to the performance. It’s like he forgot how to play the character because of so much lost time. He’s too old to have that “wildman” energy he had before in the two-scene role of The Big Lebowski.

The spark is officially gone.

If he made this movie in the 2000s, he may have still possessed the same unpredictable fire that Quintana had, but Turturro doesn’t have the energy level needed to play the role anymore. The age shows in his speech and in regular conversation, in his energy on camera, and in his exaggerated walk, which is noticeably missing that bit of “extra-ness”. Even when he beats down Paul Dominique, it’s filmed in a way where you can barely see the action but still notice the slow movements from Turturro and the overacting of Jon Hamm to try and make it look good. It’s not as bad as a “young” Robert De Niro in The Irishman, but it’s enough to remind you of the undercooked quality of this film in totality. Then again, it’s also possible that there just wasn’t enough to go off of from the original movie, and he’s making it up as the story goes, with the performance coming off as inconsistent because of it. Along with this and Turturro’s unfunny screenplay, his direction was just as wishy-washy. At times, he frames it as a crazy comedy. Other times, he frames it as a character study and dark crime drama and then switches back. In one scene, he’s swinging his cock around towards Petey and trying to fuck him, and later, they have a threesome with a sad 60-year-old, and she kills herself and they’re emotionally affected it by it. What is the goal here? The tone is never quite nailed in the way it should be. The transitions are even bad. Most of the scenes end with Turturro saying something with little background, and it’s a night-and-day transition into something that has no relevance to what’s going on. At one point, there’s a scene in which he asks his friends, “What’s “offseason” mean to you?”. Marie says “Vacation”, and he replies, “When I was a kid, I never went anywhere”. From the beginning, they establish the story as a road movie, so what’s the point of this line? Is it supposed to be a big deal? Is this supposed to make sense of him travelling and breaking into people’s houses and stealing cars? There are so many instances of bad transitional lines that it actually stands out. Normally, it never does, but this is how amateurish it feels here.

I don’t know if I’m in a bit of a mood or something, but I really enjoyed Quintana getting in the face of the smug security guard at the 99-cent store. Him refusing to be intimidated after the guard implies Quintana is shoplifting was a cool moment that made me like Quintana a bit more. However, it just got me thinking more about how the movie could have potentially succeeded had Turturro just played his own original character coming out of prison instead of attaching The Big Lebowski to the heart of it. If it was just its own story about a career criminal getting out of prison and going on a similar trajectory, I’d be a lot more positive going into this experience rather than being angry before it starts because of him changing the heart of a character without the involvement of the creators.

One of the final lines spoken by Petey is him asking Quintana what’s next after all of this saying, “What do we do? Just drive around till we run out of gas?”. Essentially, this is The Jesus Rolls in a nutshell. The entire movie consists of the characters wandering from scene to scene aimlessly causing trouble until the credits will eventually roll to stop things. With writer, director, and star John Turturro answering Petey’s question with another question of, “Why not?”, it seems as if this was the unofficial statement he had for moviegoers everywhere when they asked why he was making such a film when no one was asking for it. This idea should’ve stayed in Turturro’s head.

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