Nobody fucks with the Jesus. Nobody, that is, but John Turturro. If anyone has a right to mess with the legacy of everyone’s favourite ball-licking, purple-suited, salsa-dancing bowling sensation, it’s the man who created him. But just because you can, it doesn’t always mean you should.
Legend has it that Jesus Quintana was an underwritten supporting character in The Big Lebowski before Turturro turned up and turned him into an over-performed supporting character instead – a cult hero in a film full of cult heroes. The Coen Brothers’ 1998 classic has aged amazing well (mostly because it’s so damned good) even if almost every line, character and cocktail has since been repackaged into T-shirts, annual fan conventions, two species of African spider and one internationally recognised religion.
It’s well documented that the Coens have consistently refused to approve a proper sequel over the years, but finally, they have now given their blessing to Turturro to do what he wants with Jesus. And what exactly does he want to do with the foul-mouthed jailbird? Cast him in a remake of a 1974 French sex comedy, of course.
- Read more: Watch an exclusive John Turturro clip from The Big Lebowski spin-off movie The Jesus Rolls
The Jesus Rolls is a sequel to The Big Lebowski, but it’s much more of a remake of Bertrand Blier’s infamous Going Places – a film about three amoral misfits who spend the whole time shagging each other, robbing people and having really long, awkward picnics. As angles go, it’s a monumentally weird one, but it’s a take that almost fits the weirdness of the world the Coens created. You won’t see Jeff Bridges popping up anywhere with a White Russian, but you will sort of feel like you’re watching the same guy who once bowled a perfect strike to flamenco rockers the Gipsy Kings.
The story picks up with Jesus (Turturro) getting out of prison. Yes, this is still a film about a paedophile, but it doesn’t waste any time in reassuring us that it was all an honest mix-up involving a curious kid in a public bathroom (yeah, that still sounds pretty awful…). There’s a brief intro involving Christopher Walken and Jon Hamm, but nothing really happens until Jesus hooks up with old friends Petey (Bobby Cannavale) and Marie (Audrey Tautou).
Petey gets shot in the balls and Marie has never had an orgasm, but that’s about as much backstory as either of them get. The plot wanders in and out when it feels like it, but this isn’t a film about anything, or anyone, in particular. Meandering through various uncomfortable setups involving sex in a beach house, sex in a lake house and sex in a car, it plays out like an embarrassing orgy involving three slightly awful people. The jokes misfire loudly, the tone is all over the place and a handful of celebrity cameos (Susan Sarandon, Tim Blake Nelson, Pete Davidson) don’t do anything to shake the feeling that this is a film that has no idea what it is, why it exists or who it’s for.
At times, there’s something sweet and honest to be found in the relationship between Jesus, Petey and Marie – a beatnik charm with a European edginess that feels like genuine independent spirit. And then Jesus licks another bowling ball and talks about his dick for five minutes…
Turturro is a good director, albeit a slightly uneven one – taking acting gigs in the Transformers franchise to help finance interesting passion projects like Romance And Cigarettes and Fading Gigolo – but the 20 years spent mulling this sequel over don’t seem to have helped him crystallise it into a single good idea. Missing the arthouse mark with a shovelful of dud humour and a thick Latino accent that borders on racist, The Jesus Rolls isn’t going to go down too well with Coen Brothers fans expecting a quotable comedy.
Not awful, but far from good, The Jesus Rolls will likely stand as yet another weird footnote in the on-going history of The Big Lebowski, but it’s very, very unlikely that anyone will ever form a new religion around it.
- Director: John Turtorro
- Starring: John Turtorro, Bobby Cannavale, Audrey Tautou
- Release date: March 23 (Amazon Prime)