John Turturro plays macho bowler Jesus Quintana in this remake of the 70s French movie 'Balls', a title that applies to bowling as much as it applies to what he and his buddy have going for them. A trio of misfits whose irreverent, sexually charged dynamic evolves into a surprising love story as their spontaneous and flippant attitude towards the past or future backfires time and again, even as they inadvertently perform good deeds. When they make enemies with a gun-toting hairdresser, their journey becomes one of constant escape from the law, from society and from the hairdresser, all while the bonds of their outsider family strengthen.
Bear with me for a paragraph. Most people don't know that there was a 1981 sequel to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Brad and Janet returned (portrayed by different actors) in a new story that bore virtually no relation to the original. Fans expected "Shock Treatment" to be "Rocky Horror 2," which it definitely wasn't, so the film quickly vanished into obscurity. However, those of us who were able to overlook the ties to the previous movie were treated to a quirky oddity that presciently spoofed reality television decades before there was such a thing.
I wouldn't go so far as to say "The Jesus Rolls" is ahead of its time, but I can't help but draw comparisons to "Shock Treatment." Yes, Jesus Quintana originated in "The Big Lebowski," but if you're expecting more of the same, you're going to hate it. However, if you can just forget The Dude's adventure and accept this movie for the oddball little dramedy that it is, it's enjoyable.
Jesus gets out of jail, where he's met by his buddy, Peter (Bobby Cannavale). The duo sets off on a small-time crime spree, soon teaming up with hairdresser Marie (Audrey Tautou), and forming an unusual throuple.
Turturro imbues Jesus with a lot of extra dimensions (although frankly, that's something that many fans probably didn't want to see, as there's little mention of his prowess in the bowling lanes). The always-wonderful Cannavale is perfect as his self-centered sidekick. Tautou is charmingly odd as the duo's free-spirited not-girlfriend. And Susan Sarandon deserves an honorable mention for her hilarious and heartbreaking turn as a recently-paroled woman whom the guys briefly encounter. Other reliable actors like Christopher Walken, Tim Blake Nelson, J.B. Smoove, and Jon Hamm all essentially appear in cameos.
The film's biggest problems are that it lacks a strong plot and antagonists ( I've never seen the '70s French film that this was adapted from, but I surmise that's where these issues originated). Basically, it's a road trip movie where strange things happen to our protagonists as peripheral characters come and go. Road trip movies usually have something that the characters hope to accomplish when they arrive at their destination, but motive is largely absent here. Instead, it winds up being more akin to a character study. There's also a question of how much time passes. No major spoiler, but someone is injured at the beginning of the film, and they seem to have miraculously healed long before the credits roll. I only mention it because it doesn't seem to align with something that occurs at the film's conclusion.
The movie's not perfect, and it ain't Lebowski 2, but I was entertained for 77 minutes. Honestly, that's all I can ask of any film.
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