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Steve Buscemi is John in Saint John of Las Vegas.

1 out of 4 stars


Saint John of Las Vegas

  • Written and directed by Hue Rhodes
  • Starring Steve Buscemi, Romany Malco and Sarah Silverman
  • Classification: 14A

Whatever tingle of anticipation may be raised by the prospect of gifted oddballs Steve Buscemi and Sarah Silverman as a romantic duo is quickly dashed in the first few minutes of Saint John of Las Vegas, a funereally unfunny comedy by debut writer-director Hue Rhodes.

Produced by Buscemi and Stanley Tucci, the film follows an episode in the life of a compulsive Vegas gambler turned Albuquerque insurance company drone. Possibly owing inspiration to the Coen brothers' Odyssey-inspired O Brother, Where Art Thou? Writer-director Hue Rhodes has modelled his story on Dante's Inferno, but the classical model does not provide deliverance from the sins of inept direction and editing.

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Buscemi, receding hair combed back, with a white shirt and a skinny tie, is cast as seedy hipster John Alighieri. In the opening scene, John - his face livid on one side from an injury - is frantically expostulating to a bewildered young woman behind the cash. He's busy telling his story and buying a thousand lottery tickets.

The story John tells is of his once-safe life, after fleeing Las Vegas to live in Albuquerque, where he works for an auto-insurance company. At the next cubicle works Jill (Silverman), a one-note chipper flirt in a push-up bra with an obsession with smiley face symbols. Anxious to impress her, John decides to ask for a raise from the company's boss, Townshend (Peter Dinklage), an oily blowhard who will go to extreme lengths not to pay a claim. Instead of a raise, he offers John a new job as a claims investigator, under the tutelage of the hostile Virgil (Romany Malco). Virgil takes John back to the inferno of Las Vegas for his first investigation - the case of a stripper named Tasty D Lite (Emmanuelle Chriqui), who works in a fifth-rate dump in the desert. She's temporarily stuck in a wheelchair with a whiplash collar after her vintage car was rear-ended in the desert. Virgil assigns John to prove Tasty can still do her job, by convincing her to perform a lap dance for him in her wheel chair.

There are other odd for-no-reason encounters. A group of naked armed survivalists (led by Tim Blake Nelson) stop their car in the middle of the night and insist they turn around. At a circus, John and Virgil meet a carnival performer, known as the Flame Lord (Johnny Cho), who, because of a malfunction in his suit, is doomed to burst into flames every 20 seconds until his fuel runs out. John attempts to help him with his worst craving - a cigarette. Later, John meets a well-dressed bad guy who runs a scrap yard who goes by the name of Lou Cipher ("It's French," he explains.") Throughout, John has repeated visions of himself being "saved' at a revival meeting where Virgil is the presiding preacher. The conclusion offers Virgil as a kind of back-handed teacher, but none of this rises above a high-school level of smirky ingenuity.

Instantly forgettable, Saint John of Las Vegas is the kind of hagiography that can makes even the devil seem dull.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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