Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 20, 2020)
Across their illustrious 35-year career as filmmakers, at no point did the Coen brothers create a sequel. When 2019’s The Jesus Rolls appeared on release schedules, it seemed that they changed their minds.
Nope. Although Rolls acts as a spin-off from 1998’s cult classic Big Lebowski, it seems that the Coens didn’t participate in the film at all beyond permission to use one of their characters.
Instead, actor John Turturro becomes the star of this show in all possible ways. A mix of Lebowski extension and remake of 1974’s Going Places, Turturro works as lead actor, screenwriter and director.
In Lebowski, we got to know Jesus Quintana (Turturro) as the lead character’s competitive nemesis. A former prison inmate because he exposed himself to a child, Jesus faced off against Jeff Lebowski and pals at the bowling alley.
Here Jesus gets out of the hoosegow, a place he resided for a variety of crimes. When he reunites with pal Pete Peterson, he immediately returns to his old ways, as they steal a car.
This leads Jesus and Pete on a minor journey, one that soon adds hairdresser Marie Ange (Audrey Tautou) to the mix. They go on a series of misadventures, criminal and otherwise.
If you read the review of Lebowski linked above, you’ll find it offers massive praise for the movie. You’ll also notice that I didn’t write that part of the discussion.
When I first saw Lebowski in 1998, it didn’t work for me. I came to like it more later, but I can’t claim I ever really embraced it. I prefer the Coens as dramatic filmmakers and think their comedies seem erratic.
However I might feel about Lebowski, though, it looks like a complete masterpiece compared to the utter disaster known as The Jesus Rolls. A nearly purposeless, direction-free tale, it obliterates any potential the title character boasted.
Rarely will one find a greater mismatch between a role as originally depicted and then “updated” as one discovers with the changes accorded Jesus between Lebowski and Rolls. To make sure I recalled Jesus from Lebowski correctly, I went back and rewatched his scenes from that film.
My memories proved correct, as the Lebowski character bears little resemblance to the Jesus of Rolls. Whereas the Lebowski version seemed arrogant, lewd and flamboyant, the Rolls Jesus just seems like Some Guy.
Sure, I understand that people change over time, so one can argue that Jesus circa 2019 should depart from the Jesus of 1998. However, we should still see some connection between the two, and that doesn’t happen, as the 2019 Jesus really seems like a wholly different character.
Turturro even neuters one of the Lebowski version’s vices. In that movie, we learn of Jesus’s perverted past, for he spent time in jail as a sex offender after he exposed himself to an eight-year-old kid.
Because Rolls brings us a gentler, cuddlier Jesus, that won’t stand. Turturro shows the “exposure” scene and makes sure we understand it was a misunderstanding in a public restroom, not an intentional act of depravity.
I get that Turturro probably felt squeamish about an attempt to construct a movie around a character with such an unsettling past. That said, why bother to make a film about Jesus at all if you plan to strip the character of all the traits and quirks that made him memorable from Lebowski?
I’d surmise Turturro posited Jesus as the lead of the movie because he really wanted to remake Going Places and figured he’d more easily obtain financing if he promoted it as a Lebowski spinoff. Honestly, the disconnect between the 1998 Jesus and the 2019 version leaves me with no other logical explanation, as I can find no purpose for the character’s resurrection otherwise.
Even if I ignore the extremely tenuous link between the lead character’s origins and his depiction here, Rolls remains a borderline unwatchable mess. Admission: I never saw Going Places, so I can’t determine how much of that film Turturro “borrowed” and how much he struck out on his own.
That said, I can sense the French sex farce roots of Rolls and discern how poorly Turturro adapts that milieu. Rolls abounds with wacky situations that would probably work in the hands of a different director, but he shows such a clumsy hand that he lacks the looseness to create a fun ride.
Really, Rolls offers little more than a random collection of criminal and sexual escapades, all executed by uncompelling characters. I will say that Turturro amasses a heck of a cast here, as Rolls abounds with real talent.
In addition to himself, Cannavale and Tautou, Turturro recruits Susan Sarandon, Jon Hamm, Sônia Braga, Christopher Walken, JB Smoove, Pete Davidson and Tim Blake Nelson, among others. While we get no one with Clooney or Jolie star power, this nonetheless becomes a high-powered cast, especially for a movie one presumes enjoyed a very low budget.
Not a single one of those actors manages to distinguish him or herself, and most overact relentlessly. This seems especially true of Tautou, as she crushes our fond memories of Amelie via her shrill, grating, overdone performance.
As implied, Turturro goes too far in the opposite direction. Perversely determined to eliminate all the creepy charisma he showed as Jesus in Lebowski, Turturro seems borderline comatose, as though he can barely muster the energy to deliver his lines.
All of this leads to a complete waste of time, as Rolls seems like a desperate attempt to give us a fun romp and not just a pointless collection of random scenes. Essentially a compendium of inane escapades with no purpose or charm, Rolls ends up as a genuinely terrible movie.