The Jesus Rolls

★★

When “The Big Lebowski” came out in 1998, it was considered a disappointment at the time, both critically and commercially. It’s true.

It was the Coen Brothers next film after “Fargo” was nominated for Best Picture at the 1996 Oscars and the general consensus was that “The Big Lebowski” had a meandering and unnecessarily complicated plot that ended up being inconsequential in the end.

It didn’t take long for it to be considered a cult classic and the memorable characters and quotable lines outweighed any criticisms about the episodic plot.

One fan favorite character has been The Jesus, an ethnic hairnet-wearing, bowling-ball licking sex offender played by John Turturro. He curses and threatens competing bowlers, famously saying, “Nobody fucks with The Jesus.”

John Turturro as his famous character The Jesus in the 1998 film “The Big Lebowski”

His brief cameo in “The Big Lebowski” is memorable. But like a character on Saturday Night Live who is expanded into a full-length feature film, audiences will soon find out that less was more with Turturro’s character.

Turturro, a talented actor who often acts in the films of the Coen Brothers, Spike Lee and Adam Sandler, has decided to star and direct an unofficial spinoff to “The Big Lebowski” featuring his barely fleshed-out character Jesus Quintana. The movie, titled “The Jesus Rolls” was OK’ed by the Coen Brothers but they had absolutely no involvement with this small indie flick.

Here’s the weird part: Turturro is not just trying to make a spinoff film for this minor character, but he’s also remaking a 1974 French film called “Going Places,” that starred Gerard Depardieu. “Going Places” is a cult classic itself that received poor reviews upon its release, mainly because of its immoral, vulgar, misogynistic characters who travel around and have sex and commit crimes. It’s an odd film to choose to remake.

Turturro’s movie begins with The Jesus being released from prison. The warden, briefly played by Christopher Walken, immediately notes that Quintana’s only a sex offender because he accidentally showed a child his penis in men’s room, meant to retcon the character development in “The Big Lebowski” and immediately make this vulgar criminal not 100 percent hateable.

The Jesus then meets up with his friend played by Bobby Cannavale, another immensely talented actor, and they proceed to steal the car of a hairdresser played by Jon Hamm. Then they kidnap his girlfriend, played by French actress Audrey Tautou, best known for the 2001 film “Amelie,” and they begin to go on a road trip, committing crimes and treating people horribly.

John Turturro, Audrey Tautou and Bobby Cannavale star in “The Jesus Rolls” a spinoff/sequel to “The Big Lebowski” and a remake of the 1974 French film “Going Places”

“The Jesus Rolls” isn’t the worst film I’ve seen in 2020, but it might be one of the most unnecessary. It’s entirely marketing appeal is based on love for “The Big Lebowski” but this is such as different movie stylistically and thematically that there’s no reason to believe that lovers of “The Big Lebowski” will enjoy “The Jesus Rolls.” These are very different movies.

“The Jesus Rolls” is a darker film and while it’s supposed to be a comedy, it’s not very funny. The film has a twisted sense of morals, but it’s not shocking enough to grab my attention by any means. The characters are unlikeable but they’re not the kind of fascinating train wreck like everyone’s recent Netflix-series obsession “Tiger King.”

The story is choppy and it meanders like the wanderers in the film. But unlike “The Big Lebowski,” the loose plot can’t be overcome this time.

Even when Turturro says some of his famous lines from “The Big Lebowski” there are no cheers from the audience in “The Jesus Rolls.” It feels like the Church Lady saying, “Isn’t that special?” again and again.

The hedonism and sexual liberation doesn’t feel as groundbreaking as it might have felt in “Going Places” in 1974. It just feels trite and uncomfortable in this remake.

Tautou and Turturro in “The Jesus Rolls” available to rent or purchase on streaming sites

Turturro is an underrated character actor but as a director he’s just so-so. He brings an adequate eye for the camera to this film and he coaxes good performances out of each of his actors. But he does nothing to elevate the mediocre boring script. 

In the end, like many of his previous films, “The Jesus Rolls” is just slightly below average. And that’s one of the worst things I can say about a movie. It’s not “so bad that it’s good” like “Cats.” It’s instantly forgettable and I could see people turning it off before finishing.

It’s just disappointing and kind of dull. With a talented cast featuring names like Turturro, Cannavale, Tautou and even Susan Sarandon, you’d expect more. This gutter ball is worth skipping.

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