The Dude’s saga began with a tumbleweed. Roy Rogers made it so. And at the pace of a breeze, Jeff Bridges’ Jeffery Lebowski did what he could to get reimbursed for his soiled rug (because, after all, it really did tie the room together). The result, Joel and Ethan Coen’s cult classic The Big Lebowski, skipped across the screen with a distinctly purposeless purpose and has kept on keeping on for years.
Now, more than two decades later and with the Coen Brothers’ blessing, John Turturro has tried to hop onto that mellow current, resurrecting the side character he immortalized in Lebowski with The Jesus Rolls – a tasteless road movie that seeks to recreate the eccentric euphoria Turturro chartered in 1998. Before canning this film as another despondent, fundamentally useless sequel, it’s important to note that The Jesus Rolls is much more of an in-spirit spinoff than it is a sequel.
In fact, it has less to do with the Coen classic than it does with Bertrand Blier’s 1974 antiestablishment phenomenon Going Places, of which The Jesus Rolls is an unofficial remake. Turturro, who also wrote and directed the movie, was so inspired by Blier’s script that he not only gave it credit for the story, but he had originally swiped its title before Screen Media renamed the project. It seems that Turturro thought the two cult classics, with their episodic, go-with-the-flow auras, would mesh well together.
The problem is not only that The Jesus Rolls doesn’t work as either a Lebowski spinoff or a Going Places remake – though who’s to say that those two things wouldn’t be possible in separate circumstances – but that this movie barely works as anything.
A 7-10 Split
It’s as if Turturro had a to-do list of crowd-pleasing b-roll at the ready when he dove into The Jesus Rolls. With his signature strut and fishnet hairnet, the film begins at the end of another one of the oddball bowler’s prison sentences – for which it seems he was arrested in his bowling shoes. And an introductory interview with its warden (Christopher Walken in what turns out to not be the movie’s strangest performance) lets the audience know the terms of the incarceration. I’ll just say it involves an 8-year-old and a public bathroom.
Like a lot of the movie, this vulgar scene’s purpose is to explain one of the character’s few identifying features from The Big Lebowski – in this case, why Walter repeatedly called Jesus a “pederast” on the lanes. In fact, any speck of the character’s cameo in The Big Lebowski is amplified and repeated.
But this numbing interaction felt very similar to when Ron Howard’s Solo sought to specify what exactly the Kessel Run was. In both cases, a tantalizing bit of mystery had now been forever contained. But here, not only does this stupid scene expose why Jesus Quintana may not be the best character to put a 90-minute spotlight on, but the injection of frat-like humor (“wow, that’s big,” the kid remarks) makes his company utterly unbearable.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film get off on such a wrong foot.
The Dude (Definitely) Doesn’t Abide
Unfortunately, as it goes on its way – the story is little more than a nihilistic road trip of petty crime and sex for Jesus, his buddy Petey (Bobby Cannavale), and their compadre Marie (Audrey Tautou from Amélie) – The Jesus Rolls continues to hit gutterball after gutterball. A purposefully episodic production, the biggest problem facing the film outside of its homely characters and series of ridiculously miscalculated interactions, is that it can’t seem to find its own interesting, or even worthwhile identity. Any attempt at sponging Jesus or his immature adult friends with appealing attributes or emotions is buffered by absentminded acts: sex competitions, grand theft auto, and so on.
Meanwhile, as the film does everything it can to show how this trio can’t fit in anywhere, it also hosts a cavalcade of equally eccentric side characters who are equally unappealing. Jon Hamm plays a trigger-happy hairstylist; Pete Davidson plays a former prison and current virgin; and Tim Blake Nelson comes in as a doctor at some point. I distinctly remember thinking during any given scene, “wow, there’s talent in this room.” Could have fooled me.
Conclusion: The Jesus Rolls
No person in the world has a chance of growing closer to an onscreen character than the actor portraying them. And in the case of the Jesus and John Turturro, it seems that this rule has taken on a toxic reality. Jesus Quintana’s uber machoism, strange demeanor and undeniably over the top personality have all been played as a great joke for over 20 years. That’s how the Coen Brothers wrote him.
But for some reason, Turturro really believes in his iconic character’s right and ability to be a fully fleshed, onscreen human being. While there are a few passable moments in the film (Susan Sarandon delivers a short, melancholic performance as a woman just released from prison who’s quickly seduced by the guys), The Jesus Rolls does nothing but proves that the Jesus should only be doing one thing: rolling.
Did you make it through The Jesus Rolls? If so, did you think it was a worthy follow-up to The Big Lebowski? Be sure to drop us a comment down below and share your thoughts!
The Jesus Rolls is playing in select theaters now.
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.