Saint John of Las Vegas (2010)
Release Date: January 29th, 2010 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Hue Rhodes Actors: Steve Buscemi, Romany Malco, Sarah Silverman, Tim Blake Nelson, John Cho, Emmanuelle Chriqui
aint John of Las Vegas” creates a surrealistic fable of one man’s ascent into hell through a supreme loss of luck and a little trickery from unsavory denizens of the underworld. It’s both darkly comical and clever – perhaps a little too clever at times as the underlying correlations to “Dante’s Inferno” are subtle and often buried beneath the bizarre characters presented on the surface. The story is deceptively simple but offers a lingering sense that there’s more awaiting the careful eye and the perceptive thinker. And there is – it’s just more elusive than the abundant doses of cynical humor.
Running from a sordid past and a recent bout of luckless fortune, John Alighieri (Steve Buscemi) finds himself working for an insurance company in New Mexico. His luck steadily gets worse when he inadvertently receives a promotion to fraud investigator and begins a dark journey to Las Vegas with his reluctant partner Virgil (Romany Malco) to uncover the truth behind a mysterious car crash. Encountering fire fetishists, a wheelchair-bound stripper, and perhaps the devil himself, John must discover his own destiny while fending off all manner of miscreants and resisting the temptations of his addictions.
For John, living in a nice house in a gated community is success enough. His goals are never really revealed and his personal life is kept in the dark, except for the momentary romantic nabbing of his smiley co-worker (Sarah Silverman, described as cute in a psycho sort of way), and his obsession with scratcher lottery tickets. His boss coaxes him with the promotion of a Level 6 Adjuster, but it’s meaning to John is never explained. To match his peculiarities, or normalcy as the film progresses, are a slew of astonishingly curious characters. John appears constantly out of his element, even when the band of gun-toting nudists is the most conventional assemblage around.
Steve Buscemi has always been a recognizable and talented character actor, notable for his numerous supporting roles. He’s quite good as the lead in this light, short, and puzzling film that doesn’t spend enough time developing the “Dante’s Inferno” references. In fact, without knowing its intentions, like the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” itself a take on Homer’s “Odyssey,” “Saint John of Las Vegas” could easily be mistaken for a pointless dark comedy. But the extremely offbeat characters and realistic, oftentimes expressionless dry humor creates a satisfying tone to an otherwise unspectacular experiment in drastically subtle adaptation.
– The Massie Twins