‘The Jesus Rolls’: John Turturro’s ‘The Big Lebowski’ Spin-Off Is Funny but Aimless
Gifted character actor John Turturro reprises one of his most memorable roles for “The Jesus Rolls,” a road trip comedy that he also wrote and directed. In this spin-off of the cult comedy “The Big Lebowski,” Turturro is once again the offbeat Jesus Quintana, previously the Dude’s (Jeff Bridges) biggest bowling rival, now out for an adventure of his own.
“The Jesus Rolls” also doubles as a remake of “Going Places,” a 1974 French comedy starring Gérard Depardieu. While probably no one would mistake Turturro for a young Depardieu, he brings his own brand of charm to the role of this weirdo pansexual outlaw. When we are first reintroduced to Jesus, he’s just getting out of jail after serving six months for indecent exposure following a misunderstanding at a urinal involving a minor. Christopher Walken makes the first of a series of cameos as the prison warden who praises Jesus for helping the correctional facility win a bowling championship.
Once he’s a free man, Jesus is met outside the prison by his best friend, Petey (Bobby Cannavale). Things take off from here, as almost immediately the pair swipe a car belonging to a lothario hairdresser, Paul Dominique (Jon Hamm). After a visit to Jesus’ mother (Sônia Braga), a prostitute, they head back to the hair salon where they get into a tussle with Paul that ends with Petey getting shot uncomfortably close to his testicle. They flee the scene with Marie (Audrey Tautou), Paul’s French employee who’s Jesus’ old friend.
The trio hit the road, but their destination isn’t really clear. Apparently, it’s all about the journey, particularly Jesus’ sexual journey, which is mostly uncomfortable to watch unfold. First, he tries to hook up with Petey, chasing his staunchly heterosexual pal and telling him that sex between friends is no biggie. They both end up having intercourse with Marie, a rather underwhelming experience, as she has never been able to achieve orgasm, a detail that becomes a major plot point.
Susan Sarandon and Pete Davidson are both hilarious in separate scenes as mother and son convicts, Jean and Jack. Jesus and Petey, hoping for some more action after ditching poor Marie, pick Jean up just as she’s being released from prison. This leads to the film’s most amusing scene in which the trio enjoy a meal at a quiet lakefront restaurant, and Jean regales the owner (Gloria Reuben) with some personal insights from her time in lock-up. Later, Jesus, Petey and Marie befriend Jack and take him in upon his release from prison. Jack may still be a virgin, but he proves to be up for anything, and Davidson brings some of his famous “big dick energy” to the role.
Turturro obviously has a blast playing Jesus, and while in “The Big Lebowski” there was speculation about him being a pedophile, it’s made clear here that he is just misunderstood. The actor/director cares about this character and he wants the viewer to care about him, although it’s hard to root for him when he mistreats Marie. Turturro made an effort to update certain aspects of “Going Places” that were deemed sexist and controversial at the time of its release, but the character of Marie still feels pretty half-baked.
Overall, Turturro’s focus here was on creating distinct characters and going for laughs; the plot is rather thin. Anyone expecting to see a film on par with “The Big Lebowski” or anything else by the Coen Brothers will be disappointed. Still, the film is full of funny moments, and with a reasonable runtime of 85 minutes, “The Jesus Rolls” is an enjoyable watch, perfect for viewing at home.
“The Jesus Rolls” is available May 5 on VOD.