You can’t go far wrong when you decide that your “wholly original” film should be based-on, stolen-from and slavishly devoted to a famous movie by the Coen Brothers.
That’s the premise of “Jesus Kid,” a daft satire from Brazil that zings the country’s fascist-fringe government, the class wars and the delusional ditziness of a star TV commercials director who wants to turn this hack author of paperback Westerns into his “Barton Fink.”
A hapless 50something novelist, Eugenio (Pablo Miklos) has built a comfortably miserable, lonely life out of a long series of just-successful-enough Westerns. The hero of his books? The Jesus Kid, an omnipotent gunfighter with the looks and swagger of a matinee idol.
Writing as “Paul Gentleman” — because really, who’d want to put his real name on this trash, or waste even a good nom de plume on it — Eugenio has another, ready for his publisher, when he agrees to take a meeting with this pie-in-the-sky movie producer.
But fast -alking Max (Fábio Silvestre) doesn’t want the rights to Eugenio’s latest book. No, he’s indulging this director of commercials named Fabio (Gabriel Gorosito), a fabulist who wants to tell the story of “a writer in crisis...a mediocre writer who wants to be a famous writer…like ‘Barton Fink.'”
Fabio talks a good — ok INSULTING — game.
“Western is a DEAD genre,” he declares (in Portuguese with English subtitles). “Especially after what Tarantino did with ‘Django Unchained.'”
Fabio wants to lock Eugenio up in a swank hotel to write a script about a writer who is cracking up in search of that next big idea. The gobsmacked Eugenio considers the cash offer, decides “I have no idea” how to do that, and turns them down.
That’s before he takes his latest “Jesus Kid” manuscript to his publisher. That’s before he meets the hulking new chief (Helio Barbosa) of the government’s Ideological Integrity Control Council. That’s before Eugenio is told “You can no longer write books with offensive characters.”
“Offensive to our Lord Jesus.”
What this mountainous Olavo fellow would prefer is that this popular (enough) writer, a “favorite” of the president, write a biography of Dear Leader, Mr. MAGA of Manaus.
OK, a stunned Eugenio figures. Maybe the movie offer isn’t so bad after all.
But he can’t even check into the hotel without believing he’s being followed by some mug in a black coat, black hat and black gloves. He can’t pack a bag without coming home to an apartment that’s been busted into, his pet fish murdered.
And even after checking in, getting past the snarky, rude desk clerk (Leandro Daniel, hilarious), Eugenio is sure he’s about to meet with some accident at the hands of this (assumed) government thug who’s shadowing him.
That’s when Jesus — the cowboy version (Sergio Marone, quite amusing) — manifests himself and starts dealing with Eugenio’s problems with his handy six-shooter.
“I exist so that you can bear your mediocrity,” his greatest creation tells Eugenio.
Director and co-writer Aly Muritiba (“Rust,” “Deserto Particular”) takes us straight down the “Barton Fink/Adaptation” rabbit hole from here on out, telling a tale of a stressed writer probably losing his marbles trapped in a posh hotel, tormented by “Chet,” as Eugenio disdainfully nicknames his desk clerk (the name of Steve Buscemi’s desk clerk in “Barton Fink”), nagged by Max and Fabio and insulted by this shapely nurse (Maureen Miranda) he meets in the hotel bar.
Writer’s block? Let Jesus tap tap away at the laptop. Maybe the nurse will proofread. She seems down for anything (after-sex-scenes show us THREE nudes in the bed, Eugenio and the nurse being two of them). Scared to death of this brute, Olavo? SOMEbody will think of something.
“Jesus Kid” is peopled with characters ranging from odd to downright bizarre, conversations that bite, cut and draw blood and a breakdown any movie-lover will recognize, as will more than a few writers.
“But it’s NOT ‘the story,'” Eugenio protests, as his director and producer confuse his complaints about what’s happening to him for his screenplay in progress. “It’s MY LIFE!”
Miklos, a well-known musician who took up acting with “The Trespasser” (“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” might be a little more famous in North America), is adorably irritable as a character out of his depth and alarmed at his fate, no matter how miserable his old life was.
Miranda is a sassy, dismissive broad mean far beyond what her ordinary looks suggest. I thought she was playing a hooker, at first.
And Marone, who played Pontius Pilate in a Brazilian version of “Jesus of Nazareth” a couple of years back, is a smoldering hoot — funny from the moment we first glimpse him in his cowboy hat, kerchief and holstered pistol.
The movie, like the movie within the movie, hangs up on “the ending.” But a droll, comically sparkling cast make “Jesus Kid” a near bullseye among gunslinger Savior Westerns adapted into “Baton Fink” writer-in-crisis dark comedies, which when you think about it, should become a genre all its own.
Rating: unrated, violence, lots of nudity, profanity
Cast: Paolo Miklos, Sergio Marone, Maureen Miranda, Leandro Daniel, Gabriel Gorosito, Fábio Silvestre and Helio Barbosa
Credits: Directed by Aly Muritiba, scripted by Laura Malin and Aly Muritiba. An IndiePix release.
Running time: 1:28