John Turturro’s planned return to the universe of The Big Lebowski was announced four years ago with a fanfare as a much-anticipated spin-off from one of cinema’s most cherished cult items. With its belated theatrical release nixed by the coronavirus, The Jesus Rolls has now snuck out on streaming platforms. It appears key creative personnel lost faith or patience along the way: these choppy 85 minutes comprise a sunnily indifferent caper, displaying next to none of the Coens’ visual invention, and little of their wit. At best, what you get is an amiable footnote.
Turturro follows the road taken by Bertrand Blier in 1974’s bad-taste classic Les Valseuses (AKA Going Places), replaying pivotal couplings and conversations, albeit with a sensibility too goofy to push as far or as forcefully as Blier. Released from Sing Sing, bowling baller Jesus Quintana is met by old pal Pete (Bobby Cannavale), and the pair bounce around the fringes of New York state, picking up braless nympho (Audrey Tautou, helpless in the face of a 1974-era characterisation) and encountering endless cameoing celebs: Jon Hamm as an arsey coiffeur, Pete Davidson as somebody’s unclaimed son, Susan Sarandon smartly cast in the Jeanne Moreau role as a soured drifter seeking one final fling. Mostly, though, everyone is driving around looking for the one compelling reason for the film to exist.
Unfortunately, nobody found it, though there are funny moments early on: Jesus wondering whether an endocrinologist might help with buckshot testes, and going toe-to-toe with security guard Michael Badalucco. Choppiness is the real issue. There are baffling shunts from town to country, while the middle stretch tosses up scenes with no real function or punchline.
The Coens’ original was not un-haphazard – it needed a rug to tie itself together – but it troubled to work up its protagonist’s zen-like chill into an adoptable creed. Here, the same laissez-faire stance starts to look like a liability, an excuse for turning in a shrug of a film. Will this do? Lebowski cultists will have strong opinions.
•The Jesus Rolls is available on digital platforms including iTunes and Google Play.