Written by: John Turturro
Starring: John Turturro, Bobby Cannavale, Audrey Tautou, Christopher Walken, Jon Hamm
Even with the lesson being quite obvious at each go-around, some just cannot comprehend the lesson about the fallacy in believing in the power of side characters. The minor characters that find incredible success typically do so because of the impact they make in such a limited time, but when given much more of the spotlight, nothing interesting appears. It happens time and time again, and unfortunately, it occurred once more in The Jesus Rolls.
Now leaving prison and picking up his life again, Jesus (John Turturro) reunites with his friends Petey (Bobby Cannavale) and Marie (Audrey Tautou) and goes on a sequence of misadventures. With his reputation of being a great bowler, he hopes to set himself up well again, but he continues to get into different shenanigans.
Serving as a re-telling of Going Places while also being a spin-off for Jesus from The Big Lebowski, this film just made me sigh for most of it. The character of Jesus in the cult comedy classic served as a firecracker, whose random behavior and seriousness towards bowling made him a strong counter to The Dude’s laid back style. He served his purpose well for the story, but by no means would following this guy for his own adventures be a good idea, and The Jesus Rolls, unfortunately, proves this initial fear.
The film begins with him getting out of jail and reconnecting with his life, but nothing he encounters has any real substance to it. These adventures do not have the same passivity as The Dude’s journey, it just all looked to be a sad experience. Every sequence just appeared to be people trying to make a useless story work with most scenes being painfully unfunny. Only one scene, in particular, caused a real audible laugh for me. Everything else felt awkward because the intention was for it to be funny but it resulted in displaying an unfortunate overall attempt.
Without a doubt, John Turturro had a passion for this film as he wrote, directed, and starred in it, but the goods were not present for this to ever succeed. He failed to present anything remotely interesting about this character to warrant more than the limited time he received in the 90s film. It became a continual sequence of Jesus and the others getting into sticky situations only to steal someone’s car and continue this cycle. None of it works because the perceived comedy does not cover up the lack of story seen in The Jesus Rolls. Turturro’s attempt can be seen as valiant and a work of passion, but every directorial and writing decision here did not work and felt misguided at best.
Every favor in the book must have been called by Turturro because the cast of this feature would be the envy of everyone. From Bobby Cannavale and Audrey Tautou to the likes of Jon Hamm, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, Tim Blake Nelson, and Pete Davidson. A treasure trove to talent all wasted with limited screen time and not much for them to do when they do appear. The one who came out looking the best was Pete Davidson, as his interaction with the crew created the biggest laugh for me. Mostly, I felt bad for Audrey Tautou, who shined in Amélie but received a truly unfortunate role to take on within this feature. She certainly gave it her all with this wacky character but she was set up to fail as Marie. Even her overflowing charm could not save it. Everyone else did a fine job with what they received but it all mostly felt like they showed up as a favor to Turturro rather than the value of these characters.
The Jesus Rolls cannot be described as a trainwreck, but it certainly has fundamental issues it could not overcome. It provides yet again an example of a minor but electrifying character from major films typically not having much to offer if given more of the spotlight in their own feature. Each scene just kept dragging on with the intention of producing comedy, but instead developed unintentional cringe to the point I had to look away at certain intervals. I respect John Turturro and appreciate he enjoyed this character so much that he wanted to expand on him, but the end result showed he did not have much to say.