By Don Simpson | February 12, 2010
Director: Hue Rhodes
Writer: Hue Rhodes
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Romany Malco, Peter Dinklage, Sarah Silverman, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Tim Blake Nelson, John Cho, Matthew McDuffie
We are introduced to John Alighieri (Steve Buscemi) – a last name he shares with the writer of the short story on which this film is based, Dante Alighieri – as he attempts to buy $1,000 worth of instant lottery tickets at a Las Vegas gas station (with cold hard cash, of course). Before we are allowed to learn whether or not he will be successful in purchasing the hefty sum of tickets, let alone win, first time writer-director Hue Rhodes’s film jumps back a few days to when John was stuck in a hopelessly monotonous cubicle job as an insurance claims adjuster in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (As it turns out, the intro was merely a tease – a cheap writing trick, if you will – to keep the audience interested in the story for the long haul.)
John lives in a cookie-cutter house in a gated community (where even his access pass card fails to work).The highlight of John’s job is that he is seated next to a busty, yellow smiley face obsessed, cubicle neighbor Jill (Sarah Silverman). Fed up with his current position and payrate, John opts to confront his boss – Mr. Townsend (Peter Dinklage). However, instead of a raise Mr. Townsend decides to send John to the outskirts of Las Vegas with Virgil (Romany Malco) with the promise that if he succeeds in proving that a lucrative claim made by a stripper named Tasty D Lite (Emmanuelle Chriqui) is a fraud then he will be given a promotion and a corner office (the pay raise is doubtful).
John used to live in Las Vegas but his gambling addiction got the best of him once his luck turned sour; fate (and bad luck) drags him back to sin city, as the mean-spirited and crazy Virgil leads them on what turns into a sorry attempt at a quirky independent early-90s off-beat road movie – you know, back when every indie director in America wanted to be the next Tarantino or Coen. Eventually, John finds himself back where we left him – at the Las Vegas gas station anxiously awaiting his $1,000 worth of lottery tickets.
The characters are sorrowfully underdeveloped – even John, who we spend the entire 80-odd minutes alongside, is just as much a mystery to us as he is in the opening scene. There are no motives, no rhyme nor reason. The sole purpose of each of the characters is to emit as much quirkiness as possible – and with this unfortunate script, the quirkiness is only established by sight gags. Silverman’s Jill is a prime example of a character that is so poorly written that she can only be described visually – as the busty, yellow smiley face obsessed character. They have worked side-by-side, presumably, for a long time yet Jill instantly falls in love with John as soon as he yanks her hair – which leads promptly to a (off-screen) tryst in the ladies room at the office. Basically, Jill falls in love and drops her panties at the tug of her hair – how much more shallow and pathetic can a female role get? Virgil and John, a gruesomely mismatched twosome if ever there was one, repeatedly (and quite inexplicably) switch dominant and submissive roles on a dime.
There are tons of quirky supporting characters that fade in and out of the story, including: the wheelchair-bound stripper whom John effortless convinces to give him a lap dance (she stays in her wheelchair, and John does all of the stripping and dancing – a rip off if you tell me!); a naked and gun-toting Ned (Tim Blake Nelson), the ideological leader of a group of fire-happy nudists; Smitty (John Cho) the broken Human Torch in search of a cigarette.
Saint John of Las Vegas is infuriating; mainly because it tries so hard to be quirky and off-beat, but also because it is such a waste of great acting talent. Who would have thought that a movie featuring Buscemi, Silverman and Dinklage could possibly be so bad? (Please note that I do not blame the actors for this – they visibly struggle scene after scene to stumble their way through this poorly written script.)
I want to ask questions such as – Why was this film made? Why is this film getting a theatrical release? Assuming they read the script before signing on, why would Buscemi, Silverman and Dinklage agree to a project that is so weakly written?
The greatest mystery is that there is no correlation between the titular John and sainthood (not even in irony)…not only is it a horrible title, but like the film itself it lacks meaning or significance.
Yes, this deserves a big fat 0; but I am being generous and giving it 1.5 out of 10 only because I like Buscemi, Silverman and Dinklage.