'The Jesus Rolls' Is a Gutterball that Dishonours the Legacy of 'The Big Lebowski' Directed by John Turturro
Starring John Turturro, Bobby Cannavale, Audrey Tatou, Christopher Walken, Pete Davidson, Jon Hamm, J.B. Smoove, Susan Sarandon
Published Feb 26, 2020Jesus Quintana only got a couple minutes of screen time during 1998's The Big Lebowski, but now actor John Turturro has given his flamboyant, purple-clad villain his very own movie. The Jesus Rolls is both a spiritual spinoff of The Big Lebowski as well as an adaptation of the 1974 French film Going Places — and if that sounds like a bit of an incoherent mashup, just wait until you see this mess of a movie.
The Jesus Rolls begins with the title character (Turturro, who also writes and directs) getting out of prison, and the film wastes no time in sanitizing his sinister backstory. While The Big Lebowski portrayed Jesus as a sex offender who once served time for exposing himself to a child, The Jesus Rolls clarifies that it was all a misunderstanding at a urinal.
That theoretically makes Jesus a more sympathetic character, although he's still totally dislikeable. The first thing he does after getting out of prison is visit his mother and shame her for being a sex worker, and from there it's one long string of treating women like possessions and harassing innocent bystanders.
The plot, such as it is, involves Jesus and his friend Petey (Bobby Cannavale) finding vulnerable women to have polyamorous relationships with during a crime-filled road trip. These depraved sexual encounters aren't so much three-way love affairs as they are two guys sharing a sex object until they randomly ditch her during a dine-and-dash.
Maybe it's not worth poking too many holes in the film's morality, since Jesus isn't exactly supposed to be a traditional hero. But still, it's difficult not to scratch your head when he sits down in front of a nursing mother and launches into a lustful spiel about how much he loves Black women. There's no punchline, no irony, no moment of reckoning — just a dude saying something creepy and meeting no resistance. It's often difficult to tell if this is supposed to be a comedy; it's wacky but never funny.
The Jesus Rolls has more celebrities than jokes, including appearances from Christopher Walken, Pete Davidson, Jon Hamm, J.B. Smoove and Susan Sarandon. Amélie star Audrey Tautou gives it her all as the love interest Marie, but her gusto can't make up for the script's lack of wit. Of all the actors, only the sheepish Davidson — who spends his scenes expressionless and mumbling — has the common sense to look embarrassed for being in this movie.
In the final moments of this mercifully short film, there's a uncharacteristically clever callback, as the protagonists finally experience some consequences for their prior behaviour. It certainly doesn't redeem The Jesus Rolls, but it just might be enough not to taint The Big Lebowski by association.