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STUDIO: Vivendi Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
• Conversations with the Cast
• Theatrical trailer
It’s like Rounders, but without Pretty Boy Bourne and that asshole who no one likes to work with so he wasn’t allowed to reprise his role as Bruce Banner. And without the poker.
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Romany Malco, Sarah Silverman, Peter Dinklage, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Tim Blake Nelson
Written and Directed by Hue Rhodes
John Alighieri (Steve Buscemi) used to be lucky. Now he works in the claims department of an insurance company in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Things look pretty grim until his boss (Peter Dinklage!) assigns him to a car-insurance-fraud case with the not-so-friendly fraud veteran Virgil (Romany Malco). If he does well, he gets the promotion and raise he’s been wanting. Naturally, this journey takes him right to the one place from which he escaped and to where he had no intention of ever returning: Las Vegas, aka Hell.
“Let me guess. You guys lost Doug, stole a police car, ran off with Mike Tyson’s tiger, married a stripper, pulled out your own tooth with pliers, got attacked by a naked Asian guy, picked up the wrong Doug who is also the same guy that gave you the ruffies that made you forget that all that even happened?”
“Wow. Good guess.”
Saint John of Las Vegas is about luck and fraud. And when you’re talking about Las Vegas, you really can’t have one without the other. Steve Buscemi’s John Alighieri (perhaps a distant relative of Dante?) starts off the movie with a voice over talking about how he used to live in Las Vegas, back when he was lucky, and that — clearly evident by his move to Albuquerque and being forced to live in a carbon copy house and work some desk job whose doors he can’t even get into because his key card doesn’t seem to work anywhere — he’s no longer that same lucky guy he was.
You’d expect from that opening that John goes on a series of adventures and realizes that he’s been lucky this whole time but just never saw his fortune that was right there in front of him the whole time. And partially that’s true, although it didn’t quite get there the way I thought it would. Thankfully writer/director Hue Rhodes didn’t go the Shyamalan route with this because if he had, it would’ve been such a bore. And by that I mean have every single little scene and moment be there only to fulfill that established concept of luck so that it all makes sense in the end despite making us scratch our heads or merely watch apathetically throughout the course of the movie. (Yes, I’m being harsh on Signs — and it’s not even about luck in that movie, rather it’s faith — even though I actually dig that one of his.)
A scene from Alonzo’s acting reel. To this day, he still has no idea why he didn’t get that part in The Happening.
That’s not to say that this doesn’t have its share of quirk, the sort of which you’d expect from a low-budget indie starring Steve Buscemi in the lead role and featuring a catchy title that apparently alludes to Dante’s Inferno. O Brother, Where Art Thou? this is not, despite the similar cast and concept of reworking a classic piece of literature as a dark comedy. But it’s no Scotland, PA, either. That is to say: it’s not bad. Buscemi and Romany Malco play fraud investigators for Townsend Insurance, LLC, whose not so much in the business of insuring as they are in not paying fraudulent claims, as explained all too briefly by the inimitable Peter Dinklage — you just can never have too much Dinklage.
It’s a hodgepodge of indie fave faces, including Danny Trejo and Tim Blake Nelson, who adds to his already strong resume as the Least Likely Guy To Get Naked In Movie Who Gets Naked In Movies, playing a guy who shows up out of nowhere… naked. Unfortunately for the guys in the crowd (and most likely that’s the main audience for this flick), there is no reciprocation from Sarah Silverman, Aviva, or Emmanuelle Chriqui, despite the ample cleavage on display and the fact that Chriqui plays a stripper. A wheelchair-bound stripper, no less, named Tasty D. Lite (Emmanuelle Chriqui) who may or may not be faking her injury and car accident to reap the insurance reward.
Jim “Mary” Poppins never understood why anyone would bother walking when there was such a nice breeze.
Far and away the best scene happens when John and Virgil track down the allegedly totaled vehicle to a circus performer who tows cars for extra cash. Turns out the guy is a human torch named Smitty, and when the guys find him, his suit has malfunctioned — the zipper melted shut and the flame regulator is on the fritz — and he’s forced to sit on a metal chair, spontaneously combusting over and over again until it runs out of fuel since no one will risk getting close enough to cut him out of the suit. It’s an absolutely amazing scene that seems simple enough on paper but completely captures the odd yet satisfying tone of the entire movie. The interplay between Buscemi and John Cho (unrecognizable under the suit) is hilarious. I was on the fence about Saint John of Las Vegas until this moment happened and then I was sold.
Maybe “sold” is a bit hyperbolic. But, I do have to say: the movie grew on me. Buscemi is just always fun to watch and he’s more than capable of carrying the load as the star. Which is good because most of the supporting cast only showed up in fleeting moments. Except for Romany Malco, who is solid as the I-don’t-laugh fraud investigator who may or may not have an ulterior motive. Somehow, though, it works well enough to have kept me entertained throughout. Perhaps that’s not the most winning endorsement, but I’m not always looking for Oscar-worthy material. Sometimes I do just want an odd, road movie that doesn’t leave me wondering too much afterward.
It was a most unorthodox shooting stance… unless you were interested in hitting more than just the target.
But since I did
have to write this review, wonder I did. I gathered that John used to
have weird dreams. And that he may or may not have been baptized in a
Southern Baptist church with an all-black congregation. He may or may
not have made a ton of money gambling and then promptly blew it all
shortly thereafter. He may or may not be traveling into the seventh
circle of hell… and while it’s certainly not frigid like Dante’s
vision, when it comes to my idea of pure evil, it doesn’t get much clearer
than that of the unholy city of Las Vegas.
Nothing much to see here. The image quality was fine, although you could tell the movie was shot on the cheap. Then again, they were shooting mainly in the desert and also a lot at night. If you’re into actors really mugging for the camera, check out the special features for Conversations with the Cast, which play like on-purpose outtakes. They’re not amusing in the slightest.
“Remember me, Eddie? When I killed your brother… I talked… just… like… THIS!!!!”