Gracing the screen for the first time in 1998’s The Big Lebowski, it is easy to forget that Jesus Quintana was a minor character in the Coen brothers’ cult hit comedy. His swagger, hair net and tendency to lick his bowling ball prior to throwing it down the lane made him an immediate fan favourite. As Jesus reminded those who dare to take him on in bowling or life that “nobody f***s with the Jesus!”
After a 22-year hiatus, Jesus is back and no one heeded his advice. Instead of throwing comedic strikes The Jesus Rolls, the The Big Lebowski spin-off, barely manages to keep its various balls out of the gutter. John Turturro, who also writes and directs the film, received special permission from the Coens to revive their beloved character. However, the siblings are not involved in this film in any way and it shows.
The lack of the Coens’ touch is the most obvious when observing the film’s loosely conceived plot. A remake of Bertrand Blier’s 1974 French dramedy Going Places, the film follows the exploits of Jesus (Turturro) and his pals Petey (Bobby Cannavale) and Marie (Audrey Tautou) as they get caught up in petty crimes and various sexual encounters.
Hours after being released from prison, Jesus runs a fowl with an egotistical hairdresser, Paul Dominique (Jon Hamm) whose car he attempts to steal. This leads to a series of events where Jesus will cross paths with a cast of quirky characters, including a grocery store security guard (Michael Badalucco), a sex deprived ex-convict (Susan Sarandon) and her recently released son (Pete Davidson). Through their zany exploits they must also confront Marie’s inability to have an orgasm, Petey’s temporary inability to get an erection after being shot, and Jesus’ insatiable and fluid sexuality.
Despite being a beat for beat reimagining of Going Places, The Jesus Rolls never feels as cohesive as Blier’s controversial film. Worst of all it uses Blier’s film as a crutch, afraid to stand on its own two feet. Part of the problem is that Turturro’s film wants its band of misfits to be viewed as loveably scamps, rather than the immoral troublemakers they are. This uneven sanitized version glosses over, and simultaneously indulges in, the toxic masculinity of Blier’s original work. In a strange way, The Jesus Rolls often feels like a hybrid of a French sex comedy and the Farrelly brothers’ Dumb and Dumber.
While some of the sequences work, take the humorous interactions with Hamm or Sarandon’s charming sequences, the film plays like a series of unrealized vignettes. It moves aimlessly from one mishap to the next without any depth. The Jesus Rolls travels down a bumpy road, using bland sex jokes as a bandage for every pothole it hits. Jesus himself is reduced to a one-dimensional catchphrase machine who, much like his cohorts, fails to quench one’s thirst for comedy and nuance.
By not delving into the characters, and watering down the risqué aspects of Blier’s version, one cannot help but wonder why Turturro opted to remake Going Places at all? If there is one thing that the film makes blatantly clear, it is the level of craft that goes into a Coen brothers’ film. They are able to create minor characters who leave large impressions. One cannot simply take their characters and drop them into other films. The Jesus Rolls feels as woefully misguided as the characters themselves, which is why they should not have f***ed with the Jesus in the first place.