From the Archives: Like The Jesus himself, The Jesus Rolls is uncompromised by anything

From the Archives: Like The Jesus himself, The Jesus Rolls is uncompromised by anything

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

I have a heretical thought: I am of the opinion that Escape from L.A. is superior to Escape from New York. It’s not the strongest opinion I hold, but the fact of the matter is that if you plunked both movies down in front of me and asked me to pick one to watch RIGHT THE HELL NOW, I am picking Escape from L.A. nine times out of ten. It’s a silly movie for sure, but it’s one that brings me an incredible amount of joy. Joy that comes from my love for Kurt Russell and Kurt Russell’s love for Snake Plissken, the cycloptic, no-nonsense-ok-some-nonsense hero at the center of the series. The thing is, if not for Russell’s fondness for portraying Snake, we’d have never seen the sequel at all. Nobody was clamoring for it, and after spending a decade in limbo, the idea of a sequel to Carpenter’s action classic was all but abandoned. But then Russell stepped in an essentially said “Fine, if no one else wants to make this happen, I will.” And he did. Russell wrote the script (alongside the legendary Debra Hill, of course), and used his clout to make the movie happen. I, for one, am very glad he did.


Why do I bring this up? Because I am attracted to a similar passion that I see behind The Jesus Rolls, a pseudo-sequel to The Big Lebowski that follows John Turturro’s “The” Jesus Quintana some twenty years after he appeared in just two scenes of the Coen brothers’ classic slacker comedy. Loosely based on the controversial French film Going Places, The Jesus Rolls is a picaresque hangout flick in which the titular Jesus and his fellow ex-con buddy Petey (Bobby Cannavale) use their newfound freedom to steal cars, rob businesses, and have sex with their hairdresser friend Marie (Audrey Tautou). They meet a variety of characters along the way, including a high class stylist (Jon Hamm), an image conscious mechanic (JB Smoove), and a tired, recently released ex-con (Susan Sarandon).

Your individual mileage may vary, especially considering the fact that all we know about Quintana by the end of The Big Lebowski is that he’s a good bowler, he’s very confident, and is a registered sex offender (also, that “nobody fucks with” him). 2020 is hardly the time to make a film with a sex offender as the protagonist, but for me this wasn’t much of a bother. While the script does try and explain away Quintana’s sex offense in a funny flashback, it almost feels like a perfunctory script action employed just to show audiences that the effort was made, when really, it wasn’t necessary to do so. The Jesus Rolls in no way tries to make its protagonist anything but an inveterate criminal, albeit one that is somehow infectious to watch misbehave.


Yet we get the sense that this film, both written and directed by John Turturro, is a similar labor of love as Escape from L.A. was for Kurt Russell. It feels as if Turturro was so enamored with playing Quintana that he simply had to find another chance to do so, even if it meant creating an entire movie based around him. Did we need a Jesus Quintana hangout film/dark comedy? No. Did Turturro need to make one? Apparently he did.

It’s not the sharpest film from a directorial standpoint, nor does it ever justify its own existence as a piece of an extended Lebowski-verse, yet I found myself under its spell from the outset. We need more movies this brazenly weird. We need more movies made by people with uncompromised visions. We need more movies that cruise along to the energetic sounds of the Gypsy Kings. We need more movies that have the potential to leave audiences utterly baffled.

I’m sure I’m in the minority on this one, because I don’t see most audiences clearing the hurdle of “why,” nor can I see hardcore Lebowski-heads treating it as anything less then a stain on the reputation of The Dude (as if the Stella Artois commercials he did weren’t already guilty of such things). Credit in that regard is due to Turturro for resisting the urge to invoke The Big Lebowski at all. Literally nothing in this film references the Dude’s adventures in any way, and the proceedings are much stronger for it.

At 85 minutes, there are far worse ways to spend your time. And if you’re like me, and you’re utterly enchanted by weird movies made by passionate, strange people, then you might even like it.

The Jesus Rolls is now available on VOD.

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