Movies rarely get stranger, or more misbegotten, than The Jesus Rolls, which is both a spinoff of the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski and a remake of the notoriously perverse 1974 French comedy Going Places (Les Valseuses.) The film takes a very West Coast character and puts him in the East, while also transporting an extremely French story to America. And those are just the least of the things that don’t add up.
The Jesus Rolls has a handful of funny moments and includes some amusing one-off cameos, but overall the film is a stilted and pointless affair that has a difficult time justifying its own existence.
Jesus Quintana, the dancing, purple-clad, trash-talking bowling champion played by John Turturro, was one of the most memorable characters in Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 cult film The Big Lebowski, despite less than five minutes of screen time. The Jesus Rolls is written and directed by Turturro, with no involvement from the Coens, aside from their having granted the actor permission.
The film, set in the present day, moves the action from Los Angeles to the New York area. It begins with Jesus released from Sing Sing prison, which allows a brief explanation as to how the character, in Lebowski, was established canonically as a convicted child sex offender (his arrest for that was, the new film implies, a misunderstanding.) Still standing though, is the white Italian-American Turturro portraying a Hispanic character with an exaggerated accent, the sort of thing that was much more likely to fly in the ’90s than today.
Quintana may not really be a pederast, but he’s certainly a criminal, and definitely a pervert. The bulk of the film sees Jesus, sidekick Petey (Bobby Cannavale) and hairdresser Marie (Amelie star Audrey Tautou) on the road together, engaging in car thefts and other petty scams.
Meanwhile, the three of them have lots of sex, in various pansexual combinations; in this way, the film recalls Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien, only with a pair of middle-aged men instead of teenagers. The last film directed by Turturro, 2014’s oddball comedy/drama Fading Gigolo, had the multigenerational sexpot duo of Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara seeking to pay Turturro’s character for sex; the guy must really love the idea of directing himself in threesomes. At least this time there’s no supporting role for Woody Allen as a pimp.
The sex scenes aren’t particularly sexy or funny, and the way the other characters treat Tautou – ditching her repeatedly, and at one point trading her in for a different woman – are off-putting to the point where it’s pretty clear they were lifted from a French movie from the ’70s.
Aside from the blatant fan service of Jesus bowling and repeating his old catchphrases, the film doesn’t resemble the tone or vibe of Lebowski in any way whatsoever. Also, the road trip of the plot doesn’t make a ton of sense, since the characters aren’t going anywhere in particular and are basically driving around in circles around Long Island and upstate New York. And the ending is just plain laughable, hinging on none of the characters recognizing a notably distinctive car.
What the film does have going for it are some good cameos. The 72-year-old Susan Sarandon takes over the film for about 10 minutes, and Christopher Walken has a funny scene in his first movie role of note in about five years. Pete Davidson, Jon Hamm, J.B. Smoove, and Coen veteran Tim Blake Nelson are also on hand, along with the Gipsy Kings, who recorded the Spanish cover of “Hotel California” in Lebowski.
The Coens, aside from the Fargo anthology series on FX, have never before allowed a sequel or spinoff of their work. The Jesus Rolls is a good argument that they should have kept that policy.