“The Jesus Rolls,” John Turturro’s revisiting of his classic “Big Lebowski” bowling alley character Jesus Quintana, is a story of bad decisions made and acted on but one can’t help but wonder is the worst decision was to resurrect Quintana in the first place.
The ride begins with Quintana leaving Sing Sing prison where he served time for what he calls a misunderstanding about indecent exposure in a public bathroom. Hooking up with his best friend Petey (Bobby Cannavale), he struts and swaggers his way back into trouble starting with the theft of a vintage muscle car. When Petey is shot by the auto’s owner, a hairdresser played by Jon Hamm, they hit the road, putting some space between them and the law. Quintana already has two strikes, another arrest and he’s going to jail and never coming out. Along for the ride is Marie (Audrey Tautou), a shampooist and the hairdresser’s former girlfriend. Their adventures, both criminal and erotic, begin with a visit to Quintana’s prostitute mother (Sonia Braga). “She’s better than no mother at all,” he says.
“The Jesus Rolls” is not a “Big Lebowski” sequel. The Coen Brothers gave the OK to bring Jesus back to cinematic life but Turturro opted to base his story on the freewheeling 1974 French farce “Les Valseuses” (“Going Places”).
Sequel or not, tribute flick or not, “The Jesus Rolls” is a gutter ball. As a character Jesus is best seen in small does. He’s a standout in “The Big Lebowski” because he’s an oddball in a film that celebrates oddballs. His two scenes are memorable, blessed with quotable dialogue and quirky tics—he licks the bowling balls before launching them at the pins—but a little of him goes a long way. He’s like garlic. One or two cloves adds flavor; the whole head is overkill.
“The Jesus Rolls” may share a character with “The Big Lebowski” but it has none of its charm. Despite a poignant performance by Susan Sarandon as a woman fresh out of prison and a well-chosen soundtrack, Turturro’s film proves that in the case of Quintana, sometimes less is more.
It’ll take more than a few White Russians to wash “The Jesus Rolls” down.