In just about anyone’s world, a list of top-ten cult films would have to include the 1998 crime comedy The Big Lebowski; and most likely it would be near the very tippy-top of said list! Indeed, The Big Lebowski is really in a category of its own. With all manner of fan sites, chat rooms, trivia guides, memorials, clubs, and tours, the Coen brothers’ little indie gem has fascinated cinephiles and seekers for over twenty years now. Heck, there’s even an annual Lebowski Fest which celebrates all things Dude. Perhaps that’s why it is both daring and possibly foolhardy for John Turturro to attempt a comedic spinoff of the beloved classic. But attempt he does with the zany, bawdy, off-color, and thoroughly incomprehensible The Jesus Rolls.

For hard-core Lebowski-ites, Jesus Quintana, portrayed by Turturro, is one of the most hallowed and compelling characters in the vaunted candlepins opus. The bowling-ball-licking sex offender only has a few scenes in the movie, but he manages to exert a tidal pull on the audiences’ attention and indeed their infatuation. Jesus preens, struts, boogies, and intimidates his way to the league semifinals and, in a very strange and curious way, into all of our twisted hearts. And Turturro, who’s appeared in over 60 feature films and has frequently worked with Joel and Ethan Coen, is a two-time Golden Globe-nominated actor—once for Best Actor for his performance in the HBO miniseries The Night Of (2017) and another for Best Supporting Actor in the historical film Quiz Show (1995). He also won a Primetime Emmy Award for his guest appearance in the comedy series Monk (2004).  

In The Jesus Rolls, fresh out of the joint, ole Jesus embarks upon a road trip with his best friend Petey (Bobby Cannavale), and the two losers promptly pull some crimes, pick up chicks, and get in some kinky situations. And that’s about it! By the way, for a couple of old dudes, they seem to attract an inordinate amount of sexual attention. In fact, the entire cast seems to be in a continual state of arousal. It’s actually hard to imagine a greying man who’s spent over six decades on this planet coming up with this stuff. Weird. But maybe that’s the point. If nothing else, The Jesus Rolls’ predecessor The Big Lebowski is the very definition of weird. So, the tradition continues. 

Turturro wrote, directed, and starred in the spin-off. And for the record, the Coen’s only involvement in the film is giving Turturro permission to use the Jesus Quintana character; they’ve not endorsed the movie as an official spin-off to The Big Lebowski.

There are some sweet and funny performances here from the likes of Christopher Walken, Susan Sarandon, Jon Hamm, and Pete Davidson, but the journey generally feels rather timeworn and lethargic, and the comedic bits are sometimes straight out of a randy thirteen-year-old boy’s mind. Now, in all fairness, at times the ride is also sort of fun and amusing. But whereas The Big Lebowski was enriching yogic-cannabinoid-countercultural-logic-groovy-flow, Jesus Rolls feels more like soft porn-lowbrow-easy-rider-ripoff-exploitation flick. And in the end, Lebowski diehards may very well be disappointed in The Jesus Rolls, but if you see it as a standalone movie rather than continuing the great tradition of El Duderino, Donny, and Walter, well, you might enjoy it. 

Which begs the question, for those who have ventured to theaters to see The Jesus Rolls, did John Turturro take an enlightened risk in following up his iconic character in TBL? Or did he sully the mighty legacy of a very singular and beloved cult classic?

But after all, does it really matter? Because, as we all know, nobody messes with the Jesus! Am I right?

 

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