Movie Review: “The Jesus Rolls,” just not in a bowling alley

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The shaggy dog — Ok shaggy Dude — comedy “The Big Lebowski” produced more memorable characters than most any cult film you can think of.

And any of them, played by Jeff or Julianne, John or Jon, was indelibly hilarious enough to merit a spin-off film, at least to fans.

Of course, the catch here is that any attempt to catch that lightning in a bottle 20 years later would probably turn out like “The Jesus Rolls,” John Turturro’s return to the cocksure Puerto Rican bowler with aggression, sex appeal and an accent to die for.

Sure, he’s unforgettable. Like several others in the film, he has his own catch-phrase — “Nobody f—s with the Jesus.” But take him out of his element and maybe the twenty years matter more and the film will seem creaky and winded.

It’s not a terrible idea to package Jesus with a fellow ex-con pal, Petey (Bobby Cannavale) and a cranky French hairdresser, Marie (Audrey Tautou) and put them on the road in a remake of Bertrand Blier’s “Going Places.” But every minute that The Jesus isn’t in a bowling alley Turturro and his movie lose a lot of what made him stand out.

That doesn’t mean “The Jesus Rolls” doesn’t come damn close to just skating by on the glories of that character and our memories of that movie. We meet him as he’s released from prison, and if you ever wondered what the unflappable Christopher Walken (playing the warden) looks like breaking character, he comes close here.

“SERVED your TIME, boy!” he twinkles, and almost loses it. He seems as delighted as we are at seeing Turturro back in Jesus mode. “Keep on BOWLING boy!”

For a moment, as Jesus exits the prison, we think we’re going to get a “Something About Mary” musical narration. Jesus, remember, doesn’t just have a look, an accent, a catch-phrase and a go-to move — licking his bowling ball before rolling. Jesus has his own music. The Gipsy Kings play him out, and they are literally in the prison with him.

Maybe Turturro couldn’t land them for transition shots throughout the movie, but this is inspired. And it’s the one moment in “Jesus Roles” that truly takes us back to The Dude and his abiding.

The rest of “Jesus Rolls” is mostly Jesus rolling. Petey picks him up at prison, they steal the first of many MANY vintage cars that they boost, and we’re off.

It’s a road comedy of criminal enterprises, comic mishaps and quaintly kinky sex. Once they’ve stolen that Plymouth Road Runner from the gun-toting hair dresser (Jon Hamm) and stolen his star stylist (Tautou), who has “history” with Jesus, let the threesomes begin.

A parade of cameos pass by — Hamm, Tim Blake Nelson, Sonia Braga as the Mother of Jesus, a hooker — “Steel in the game, at your age?” JB Smoove gets a haircut. Susan Sarandon is a female ex-con they pick up, stealing another car to give her a lift.

Jesus has a thing for Chrysler products — Road Runner, K-Car, Fury. The vintage Bentley doesn’t suit The Jesus.

The surprise focus here reminds me of the way “Big Lebowksi” kind of went off the rails for me — the sex scenes. There’s amusing nudity and a lot of switching partners and sharing and a faintly frustrated Frenchwoman who says “I sleep with everybody. That way, no one is jealous!” Jesus frets that “Ain’t no pleasure for The Jesus not to give pleasure!” Not much pleasure in the scenes, either.

The picaresque crimes are dull, the road “comedy” never develops momentum.

But one more moment brings “The Jesus” back to his natural habitat — a bowling alley. The Gipsy Kings (unseen, alas) play and sing a Spanish “My Way,” and there’s time for a tango, in bowling shoes.

This is The Jesus we want. This is the Jesus John T. should have saved.

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MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, language throughout and brief nudity

Cast: John Turturro, Bobby Cannavalle, Audrey Tautou, Susan Sarandon, Pete Davidson, Jon Hamm, Sonia Braga, Tim Blake Nelson, JB Smoove and Christopher Walken.

Credits: Directed by John Turturro, script by John Turturro, based on Betrand Blier’s film “Going Places” and the character created by Joel and Ethan Coen. A Screen Media release/a Sidney Kimmel production.

Running time: 1:25

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