Filmmaking is no easy feat, let alone writing and directing a comedy. John Turturro’s The Jesus Rolls is a spin-off of The Big Lebowski, spotlighting the bowler, Jesus Quintana, who went up against Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski in an immeasurably superior film made by the Coen Brothers in 1998. In conjunction with that, the script is loosely based on the French film Going Places (1974) about two French thugs who go on a free-flowing road trip committing reckless crimes. The Jesus Rolls isn’t a film about rolling bowling balls, it’s a film about Jesus rolling out of prison. In a bogus exercise and a failed attempt at comedy, we meet Jesus (John Turturro) in his cell doing pull-ups on his last day behind bars. We get the rundown from the Warden (Christopher Walken) of Jesus’ history of criminal activity; a sex offender who disturbs the peace with a case of indecent exposure of his genitals to a young boy at a urinal. Before Jesus is sent off into the world, the Warden advocates that he continue to bowl as opposed to making mistakes in committing misdemeanors and crimes.
Awaiting outside the prison is Jesus’ buddy, Petey (Bobby Cannavale), which commences the incongruous and absurd adventures the two are about to encounter that is meaningless and futile. Jesus and Petey rob a muscle car that belongs to a flamboyant hairdresser Paul (Jon Hamm), who brandishes a gun and shoots Petey in the butt cheek, forcing them to travel to a Doctor (Tim Blake Nelson) to have the bullet removed. The plot beats of the entire story are completely non-existent. There’s no overall objective for these characters. Ridiculous sequences take up screen time like cutting a man’s afro to a bald scalp, stealing shopping carts from 99 cent stores, homosexual flirtations with security guards, ridiculous antics like walking away from a restaurant table without paying, sexual threesome’s with women who can’t climax, and another threesome with a woman who commits suicide immediately afterward. The story beats lead absolutely nowhere; not only do we not know where they’re going, neither do Jesus and Petey. After getting chased by police patrol units, Jesus and Petey get trapped at a crossroads and somehow miraculously make their way inside a crossing train travelling at high speeds. The absurdity of this film is intentional and its implausibility is meant to be taken as obvious, but it’s the failed attempt at comedic timing that makes the film struggle.
This film is purposely ridiculous and its result is rarely funny. You sit through it because it’s filled with cameo performances by first rate actors. The director, John Turturro, has a fine body of work in his filmography with brilliant acting and showed a penchant for stylish directing in Fading Gigolo (2014) and Romance & Cigarettes (2005). With The Jesus Rolls, it appeared as if Turturro was striving to rekindle the elements that made the character of Jesus resonate in The Big Lebowski (1998). The tone of this film was reminiscent of a Farrelly Brothers picture from the 1990s, who were masters at comedic timing. The Jesus Rolls will definitely give you at least one deep belly laugh, which may or may not be worth it, but its cringes will heavily outweigh its failed sense of humor as you’ll find yourself sighing and shaking your head at the film’s futility.