Last time he went to Vegas, Judge Franck Tabouring woke up holding a receipt for $700. Bad luck indeed.
Getting lucky is a roll of the dice.
Chances are you've never heard of Hue Rhodes or his feature film debut Saint John of Las Vegas, but this low-budget independent road movie boasts a solid cast and a bunch of wacky moments that may just manage to offer viewers a fair dose of good times for the short duration of 75 minutes. In other words, it's worth the ride…
Facts of the Case
Steve Buscemi stars as John, a hopeless gambler who finally found the courage to leave his life in Las Vegas behind and start afresh in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he's now earning a so-so living as an insurance agent. Sadly for John, he still blows most of his money on useless lottery tickets. When his boss (Peter Dinklage) asks him to go investigate a suspicious insurance claim in the Nevada desert, things only seem to get worse. Together with his new partner Virgil (Romany Malco), John finds himself embarking on a peculiar adventure that may just force him to return to the one rotten place he planned to stay away from as far as possible.
Saint John of Las Vegas is the epitome of eccentric indie filmmaking. I say this in a positive way, though, because the film finds an attractive balance between weird and amusing, and that's undoubtedly a plus. Rhodes definitely has a couple of things to say about gambling and the concept of luck in life, but don't panic if you're wondering what the heck you've been watching once the movie's over. A lot of things here don't really make sense in the end, and a bunch of scenes in the film feel like they've been thrown in there with no other purpose than to provoke a few quick laughs. Luckily enough, some of these rather absurd moments are indeed quite funny. They make it easier to forgive the film's weaknesses.
Essentially, Rhodes succeeds in moving along his film's plot at a high pace and without any bumps of boredom, which is commendable. What happens to John and his partner on the road can only be described as ridiculous, but at least it's mostly just as entertaining as it is odd. This particular job takes John and Virgil deep into the Nevada desert, where they're supposed to investigate the case of Tasty D. Lite (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a stripper who claims someone rear-ended her car and caused her to end up in a wheelchair. Virgil firmly believes she's committing fraud by asking the insurance company for a bunch of money, and it's up to him and John to discover the truth.
This is by no means an ordinary investigation. Not only do John and Virgil constantly butt heads, but they also encounter the most random characters along the way, including a group of nudists blocking their way and a desperate circus artist stuck in a malfunctioning fire suit. At the same time, the closer John gets to Las Vegas, the deeper he gets pulled into his old lifestyle, and it's his particular transformation that qualifies as the film's most interesting aspect. This also leads me to the biggest strength of Saint John of Las Vegas: the superb cast.
Clearly, the film wouldn't work without Steve Buscemi, who proves yet again that he's the right man when it comes to a truly nutty role. His talent as well as his unique facial expressions and posture help turn John into a dark character viewers will still find easy to like in a way, and he appears very naturally in every single scene he's in. In other words, he totally dominates, and it's a great pleasure to watch him play yet another odd guy whose mind is as messy as his gambling problem. Romany Malco makes a solid partner, while Peter Dinklage is perfect for the role of John's boss. Also doing a great job is Sarah Silverman, who plays a chesty insurance agent who sits one cubicle away from John and has an obsession for smiley faces. With this kind of talent on board, it's obvious most of the interactions between these folks and John provide decent enough laughs.
Visually, Saint John of Las Vegas doesn't have anything unique in store for us, but it's still shot reasonably well. It's got a sandy look to it that works well with the film's setting. The DVD offers a clean presentation boasting a sharp picture quality, and the audio transfer does the job as well. The bonus section disappoints, because they only extra we're in for is a 3-minute piece featuring brief interviews. It's all supposed to be funny, but we don't learn anything about the production of the movie. A detailed interview or commentary with Rhodes would've been much more intriguing.
Saint John of Las Vegas is an odd little film you'll enjoy if you can see past it's enormously strange and often messy plot. The talented cast is the true reason this works, but even though the story lacks variety, it's loaded with random moments funny enough to keep things interesting throughout. It's not a film for the masses, but it boasts a certain level of appeal. It's worth checking it out for Buscemi alone.
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Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
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