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Saint John of Las Vegas (2010) *1/2

February 11, 2010

Written by: Dante Alighieri and Hue Rhodes
Produced by: Mark Burton, Lawrence Mattis, Kelly McCormick, and Matt Wall
Directed by: Hue Rhodes
Rated R for some language and some nudity
85 min.

U.S. Release Date: January 29, 2010 (limited)

In “Saint John on Las Vegas”, writer-director Hue Rhodes brings to life another Sundance-esque, quirky, road trip film.  Unlikely partners take the road and run into a series of quirky oddball characters along their way with a crescendo to a less-than Hollywood ending.  With the recent onslaught of similar films, there was very little to find original or compelling about this movie.

The film follows the story of John (Steve Buschemi), an “ex” compulsive gambler who is taking a job-related road trip with co-worker Virgil (Romany Malco) to Las Vegas to investigate possible insurance fraud.  John recently moved away from Las Vegas to Albuquerque to run away from his gambling habit and the associated baggage.  He is working, with little success, to build a new life for himself as an insurance claims officer.  John has a new girlfriend, Jill (Sarah Silverman), and is working his way up the company ladder.  If he doesn’t screw up this fraud case, he could land the big promotion he has been waiting for.

John and Virgil take their Mercury sedan from Albuquerque to “outside Vegas” and interact with the usual suspects of weird characters in this indie film archetype: tough-guy mechanics, a crippled stripper (Emmanuelle Chriqui — which is painfully unbelievable), nudist gunmen, a circus performer, and some bored gas station attendants.  Interluded with John’s dream sequences and long “clever” dialogue sequences, “Saint John of Las Vegas” fails to deliver anything of originality or note.  I felt like I was watching “Little Miss Sunshine” meets “Thelma and Louise” playing at an indie film festival you’ve never heard of.

The film attempts, at many junctures, to be “quirky” and funny, but never seems to succeed.  It seemed to me like the entire screenplay was written with no actors in mind, and once the film was cast, it never went off script to cater to individual actors comedic strengths.  Romany Malco is hilarious in “40 Year Old Virgin” and Sarah Silverman is hilarious in general, however neither actor brings their unique styles to their characters.  I know for a fact, after listening to an interview with Silverman, that she agreed to star in “Saint John” at one day’s notice after another actress backed out last minute.  Having knowledge of this going into the film, it made a lot of sense that her character was one-dimensional and didn’t show a glimmer of humor.  This film would have succeed in many ways if it had done one of two things: either done a re-write of the script after casting, or dropped the idea of including comedy altogether.

As far as a trip to the theater to this “Saint John of Las Vegas”, I would skip it.  However, if you’re starving for a slightly unconventional story (by Hollywood’s standard) and you would like to finally see Steve Buschemi take the lead in a film, hold off until this one is released for rental.  I didn’t necessarily hate this movie, I just felt like I was watching a comedian swing and miss or a thuggish white kid in an affluent suburban neighborhood, it just wasn’t quite right.

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