Movie Review - 'Saint John of Las Vegas' - A Patron Saint For Sad Sacks John Alighieri (Steve Buscemi) has two great ambitions: To hook up with his co-worker and to talk his boss into giving him a raise. One is easy enough; the other involves a Dante-esque tour of Las Vegas involving everything from scratch-off lottery tickets to a stripper in a wheelchair.
NPR logo A 'Saint John' Who's Patron Of Oddballs, Sad Sacks

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A 'Saint John' Who's Patron Of Oddballs, Sad Sacks

A Tour Of The Inferno: Insurance-fraud investigator John Alighieri (Steve Buscemi, left) wanders the Nevada desert in search of the truth behind a stripper's auto accident. Romany Malco plays his guide, Virgil. IndieVest Pictures hide caption

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IndieVest Pictures

Saint John of Las Vegas

  • Director: Hue Rhodes
  • Genre: Comedy/Drama
  • Running Time: 85 minutes

Rated R: Language, skin

With: Steve Buscemi, Romany Malco, Tim Blake Nelson, John Cho, Emmanuelle Chriqui

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Like Ted Bundy, Saint John of Las Vegas probably looked good on paper.

Steve Buscemi and Peter Dinklage head the cast, after all. And with Spike Lee and Stanley Tucci among the producers, plus Giles Nuttgens behind the camera, this first feature from Hue Rhodes (a founder of BlueLight.com, Kmart's online store) seemed certain to pique audience interest.

It takes barely 10 minutes with the titular John (Buscemi), however, to realize we're knee-deep in indie-movie preciousness. But though Buscemi can be a kind of sad-sack virus, infiltrating a perfectly normal narrative and altering its genetic structure, this time he bears none of the blame. As his character plunks down $1,000 for lotto tickets at a Vegas gas station — he even has a sad-sack gambling preference: scratch-off cards — Buscemi's jumpy, bug-eyed desperation seems more to do with an actor trapped in cliche hell than with a character trapped in a gambling addiction.

A surreal journey from Quirksville to Oddballtown, the movie follows John, an Albuquerque insurance-company drone, on his quest for microscopic personal growth. John has but two ambitions: to nail the coworker in the adjacent, smiley-face-bedecked cubicle (Sarah Silverman, swelling exuberantly from tight '50s outfits), and to extract a raise from his insane boss (Peter Dinklage). Having accomplished the first in a bathroom stall, he broaches the second and is soon dispatched to the outskirts of Vegas to investigate a stripper's possibly fraudulent claim of having been rear-ended. (Hey, I didn't write the screenplay; that honor also goes to Rhodes.)

Alighieri's Beatrice: Sarah Silverman plays the smiling, cleavage-baring object of John's affections. She's elegantly retro and indie-precious, and Silverman probably deserves better. IndieVest Pictures hide caption

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Alighieri's Beatrice: Sarah Silverman plays the smiling, cleavage-baring object of John's affections. She's elegantly retro and indie-precious, and Silverman probably deserves better.

IndieVest Pictures

Illuminated by the garish lights of sterile convenience stores and soul-sucking offices, Saint John of Las Vegas is less a movie than a straggling archipelago of offbeat encounters. Accompanied by a po-faced claims investigator named Virgil (Romany Malco), John bounces from that stripper (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and her wheelchair to a gun-toting naturist (Tim Blake Nelson), from a loony park ranger (Jesse Garcia) to a nicotine-craving human torch (John Cho). "I used to be lucky," Buscemi moans in voiceover, while we're treated to more than one uncomfortable, bathroom-mirror close-up of his snaggletoothed mug. Watching John navigate an unorthodox lap dance and an attack by solar panels in the Nevada desert, all we can think is that the actor deserves better. As does Silverman, a sharply intelligent actress here reduced to a retro Barbie with jaundice-hued fingernails and a Grand Canyon cleavage.

Adding pretension to affectation, Rhodes extends his religion motif beyond the film's title, linking the story to Dante's Inferno. (John's last name is Alighieri, while another character is introduced as Lucypher — a shameless crib of Louis Cyphre, Robert De Niro's character in Alan Parker's Angel Heart.) Unfortunately the torment he evokes is suffered by us all.