“Saint John of Las Vegas” is the sort of movie that exists solely to give quirky actors like Steve Buscemi a chance to strut his stuff as the lead actor, rather than playing second fiddle to more traditionally handsome actors in studio pictures. It’s the story of a man whose life didn’t turn out the way he planned and Busicemi, with his cartoony hang dog expression was born to play him.
Buscemi is John, a compulsive gambler whose luck left before his habit did. Fleeing Las Vegas he drove until he ran out of gas, landing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Leaving the high life behind he finds work as a desk-bound insurance claims adjuster. When he asks his boss (Peter Dinklage) for a raise he is instead told to accompany Virgil, a hardnosed fraud investigator (Romany Malco) back to Vegas. Leaving behind his new love (and the boss’s ex-girlfriend), Jill (Sarah Silverman), John and Virgil they set out, encountering a surreal collection of people, including wheelchair bound lap dancer, a skittish park ranger, a human fireball sideshow performer and a mysterious man named Lou Cypher.
“Saint John of Las Vegas” isn’t exactly laugh-out-loud but it will raise a smile or two. Buscemi takes a thinly drawn character—we never really know much about him other than he has strange dreams and was once a high roller in Vegas—gives him pathos and makes him likeable and watchable, but it would have been nice to know a bit more of his back story.
Buscemi is at the center of virtually every scene of the film which is a good thing when he’s sharing the screen with Silverman or Dinklage—those scenes have some real spark to them—but not always great when he’s opposite Malco.
Romany Malco is a talented actor—his credits include “The 40 Year Old Virgin”, “Weeds” and the title role in “Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story”, and anyone who could survive that and go on to have a career must have something going for him—but here he seems to be trying to out quirk Buscemi, which is a fool’s game. In some scenes, as when he beats up a stuffed happy face pillow at a fair ground, he seems to be performing simply to be noticed. His strange posturing in these scenes doesn’t add anything to his character or the movie and he would have been better served paying attention to how Buscemi can own the screen without resorting to cheap attention getting tricks.
“Saint John of Las Vegas” is a slight movie, both in running time—it clocks in around 75 minutes—and in content. Buscemi, Silverman (as the “happy face” loving girlfriend) and Dinklage keep things interesting but this may be more of a rental than a night out.