Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Steve Buscemi has a weaselly appeal as a reformed gambler tempted to risk everything in "Saint John of Las Vegas" (opened February 12 at Landmark's La Jolla Village Theaters). The engagement ends February 18.
"Saint John of Las Vegas" wants to be a quirky indie film and it has a lot of the right elements. There's a fun, intriguing title; a cast of cult favorite performers (Buscemi, Sarah Silverman, Romany Malco, John Cho); and a hip Vegas setting. Buscemi is perfect as the titular John who once was a mini-king of Las Vegas. But he lost it all and has moved away -- far away -- from the strip and it's temptations to remake himself as something of a reformed gambler. He does, however, allow himself to play the weekly lottery.
The film opens with a voiceover from Buscemi and a frantic scene in a convenience store where a slightly battered John attempts to buy a thousand dollars worth of lottery tickets. The film then flashes back to a few days earlier to explain how John got to that point. The reformed John has a boring job as an insurance claims adjuster in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His only distraction is the bubbly, smiley face obsessed cubicle neighbor Jill (Sarah Silverman). His boss, Mr. Townsend (Peter Dinklage), is a pain in the ass and on par with the boss played by Gary Cole in "Office Space." Mr. Townsend orders John to partner with investigator Virgil (Romany Malco) and head out toward Vegas to deal with a claim that the boss wants proven fraudulent. But John knows that going to Vegas does not bode well for him.
Writer-director Hue Rhodes conceives of some amusing scenes and characters, and he's fortunate enough to have a highly appealing cast. The result is a film that's likable but never inspired or impressive. This is Rhodes feature debut and he shows flashes of talent. There are some nice design elements at plays and he certainly has a sense of oddball characters. My favorite bit part was John Cho as a man at the carnival whose flaming suit won't turn off and all he wants is a cigarette. But a knack for the occasional clever scene isn't enough to pull an entire film together.
He's fortunate to have Buscemi on hand to carry the film, and Buscemi almost pulls it off. Buscemi is great as John, who looks like a reject from the original "Ocean's 11." He's obsessed, a little seedy, and a wannabe big roller. Rhodes shoots him like he is on of the Rat Packers and plays on the irony of that. Buscemi makes John a likable character and he holds our interest as events start to spin out of control.
"Saint John of Las Vegas" (rated R for language and some nudity) aspires to greater things just like its title character. But if you like Buscemi, this one is still worth checking out.
Companion viewing: "Office Space," "Living in Oblivion," "Ocean's 11" (the one with Frank Sinatra)