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Saint John of Las Vegas (A Movie Review)


Starring Steve Buscemi, Romany Malco, Sarah Silverman, Peter Dinklage, Tim Blake Nelson, John Cho, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jesse Garcia and Aviva.

Written by Hue Rhodes.

Directed by Hue Rhodes.

Distributed by IndieVest Pictures. 85 minutes. Rated R.

There are certain movies which have absolutely no shot at a box-office bonanza. They appear to be filmed specifically with cult acceptance in mind. They are content to tell a quirky little story and hope to be embraced by a small but fervent core of fans.

Saint John of Las Vegas is one of these films.

Saint John of Las Vegas is a genial – although occasionally trivial – southwestern comedy of manners and redemption. It is apparently very, very, very loosely based on a story by The Divine Comedy scribe Dante Alighieri. (The main character even sports the famous writer's last name).

John Alighieri (Steve Buscemi) is a degenerate gambler who has – for his own good – moved away from his former Las Vegas home. He has ended up an insurance guy working in a cubicle in Albuquerque, with only a borderline-obsessive lottery habit as the remnants of his gambling jones.

His life is dull and drab. He is always broke. He doesn't really like his job and can barely afford the house he has in a local "gated community."

Things seem to turn around when he approaches his boss (Peter Dinklage) for a raise and is instead offered a promotion from claims to fraud – although with no extra money quite yet. If he can prove that a stripper who has claimed her collectors’ 70s muscle car was totaled was lying, John has the chance for a better job.

The problem is, the stripper lives and works right outside of Las Vegas and John knows if he goes to Vegas he will probably backslide into his game-playing. Also, he starts an offbeat relationship with the overly bubbly woman in the next cubicle over, played by Sarah Silverman. Finally, he has to deal with being partnered up by a hardened, anti-social fraud worker (Romany Malco) who is supposed to show him the ropes.

This begins an offbeat road trip in which John must try to fight off his temptations while meeting eccentric types like an overly helpful park ranger, a wheelchair bound stripper, gangsters, naturists, a human torch and several attractive convenience store clerks.

For a film with such modest aims, Saint John of Las Vegas has an exceptionally strong indie cast.

As usual, Buscemi plays the lead with a smart mixture of charm and desperation. John is often kind of pathetic, but the audience never loses its rooting interest in him, because Buscemi is able to convey the man's intelligence and basic goodness.

Comedy vet Romany Malco (The 40-Year Old Virgin, Baby Mama, Weeds) is inscrutable and interesting as his distant partner. Peter Dinklage has a lot of fun as John's diminutive passive-aggressive boss. John Cho also steals his one scene – even though you never even see his face – as an exasperated human torch stuck in a malfunctioning suit. Other guests are kind of wasted in less interesting roles, particularly Emmanuelle Chriqui as the incapacitated stripper and Tim Blake Nelson as a redneck nudist.

However, this movie rises and falls with Steve Buscemi – and for his sterling work alone this quietly quirky little morality tale is worth the time.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: January 17, 2010.


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