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.
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.