And on the third day he rolled again. A cult favourite resurrects itself with The Jesus Rolls. The film offers an unofficial spin-off to the Coen Brothers’ 1998 fan favourite The Big Lebowski. Gone are the Dude, Julianne Moore, and the rug that held the room together. This film is all about Lebowski’s higher power: Jesus. Yes, that wacky bowler who performed cunnilingus on his shiny ball finally has his own movie.
John Turturro reprises his small but memorable role and takes over from the Coens as writer/director. (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen have no involvement in The Jesus Rolls aside from okaying its existence.) Jesus Quintana remains one of Turturro’s most iconic parts, so he’s partly playing with fire in returning him to the screen. While Turturro is as fun as ever playing the wackily charismatic character, directing’s never been his forte. His last features, the Woody Allen-y Fading Gigolo and the bizarre musical Romance & Cigarettes, were hot messes with few highlights. Simply put, he’s no Coen behind the camera.
While The Jesus Rolls is more cohesive a work than Turturro’s other films are, it’s bizarrely pointless. Its existence is more a mystery by the end of the film. Anyone who doubted the necessity of Jesus’s return will be left pondering the point of it all.
Jesus is just all right
However, there’s a novelty to the film that one can’t deny. It’s fun to return to the world of Lebowski even for some intermittently amusing moments. The film drops audiences into Jesus’s return from prison following a stint for indecent exposure. Jesus, ready and randy, joins his friend Petey (Bobby Cannavale) on a cross-country crime-spree/sexcapade to celebrate his liberation.
What follows is a sort of spiritual journey. In the spirit of On the Road or Sideways, the boys go where the road and poon take them. Along the way, they boost a car from a gun-totin’ hairdresser (John Hamm), pick up a sexy French salon girl (Audrey Tautou), and provide a convict (Susan Sarandon) with a night to remember. Turturro and Cannavale are lots of fun together as the randy men with arrested development. They pursue women and fret about their prowess in the bedroom. Their partner in crime, Marie (Tautou), confesses to never having an orgasm after they both fail to please her, so their freewheeling odyssey becomes a quest to decode feminine pleasure. True to the spirit of Lebowski, Jesus is all about his balls.
An ambitious adaptation
A lot of what transpires, however, is neither funny nor sexy. The Jesus Rolls has its moments, mostly in the skirmishes that highlight the protagonist’s incompetence as a criminal and lover. There are genuine laughs, like a getaway chase on bicycles and some drolly homoerotic rivalries, most notably with Hamm’s character. For the most part, The Jesus Rolls is just sloppy sex and the pursuit of it. Blow-up dolls could easily replace Tautou and Sarandon, barring a few reaction shots. For a film twenty years in the making, it’s disappointingly juvenile as a return to the Lebowski cinematic universe. (A shame, since Lebowski‘s play on stoner vernacular was one of the Coens’ better feats.) The Jesus Rolls embodies the shaggy dog spirit of Lebowski, but doesn’t do itself any favours by inviting comparisons to the cult hit.
The Jesus Rolls might ultimately be more interesting as an experiment than as entertainment. One has to admire Turturro’s ambition, since he isn’t adapting the Coens’ work into a follow-up. Rather, The Jesus Rolls transplants Jesus Quintana into a remake of Bertrand Blier’s 1974 road movie Going Places. On one hand, Turturro wrestles with two acts of adaptation and tries to find middle ground in realizing a character who straddles different worlds. On the other hand, a different source might have been better inspiration for coming to Jesus. Everything besides the character is at odds with the expectations one inevitably brings to the film. The Jesus Rolls might have actually worked better as a follow-up to Y tu mamá también given that it’s mostly two horny guys on the road chasing tail twenty years past their prime.
The Jesus Rolls opens in theatres on Feb. 28 and rolls onto home video March 10.