Leave in Las Vegas
Saint John of Las Vegas shows lots of dun roadside between Albuquerque and Sin City though thankfully nothing of the latter’s neon. The film is a New York intelligentsia affair rather than a comment on the Nevada showplace which, along with Miami Beach, is a Big Apple suburb, anyway.
From a first script by also first-time director Hue Rhodes, who at thirty turned to film from software engineering, this indie credits Dante Alighieri with its story of car insurance claims adjuster John Aligheiri [so spelled] guided through the Inferno of American reality to some sort of paradisiacal self-realization, not to mention success and woman.
Perhaps slyly also Saints John Climax and John of the Cross in their ladder-ascents to Paradise and Mount Carmel, this John (Steve Buscemi) has fled an addiction to bad-luck Silver State gaming for a nine-to-five in the Land of Enchantment. However, aside from two quick losses at a girlie-club blackjack table on re-entering the former, he still ventures every scratch-and-lose lottery that pops up. In this connection, too much artless character exposition lies in his opening, often returned to, manic monologue into the camera (and audience’s face) which stands in for convenience store clerk Jenny (Isabel Archuleta), young enough to be his daughter and by turns puzzled, intrigued, picked up and put off.
No matter, for the smiley face of his life is toothy bosomy Jill (Sarah Silverman), who works in the computer cubicle beside his and, maybe or maybe not cuddling up with their boss, decides she loves him when he tentatively jerks her hair bun and is tempted with a promotion to Level 6.
Company owner Mr. Townsend (Peter Dinklage) may or may not be making both her and profits by proving fraudulence in claims and so not paying them. To test John’s worthiness, he is teamed with Virgil (fellow Brooklynite Romany Malco), mysterious, laconic and mumblingly unintelligible. Pocketing expense-account hotel chump change by sleeping in the car, stashing greenbacks above the driver’s visor, the worldly African-American guide takes the clueless white novice on a road-movie trip, to meet up with the expected assortment of loonies and oddballs. For example, the teacher and pupil investigators’ target is the missing, totaled, rear-ended car of a lap dancer/B-girl whose supposed injuries have left her plying her trade from a wheelchair.
Cut with the occasional phone call from lovelorn Jill and nightmare sequences where the hapless hero is stripped to his underwear in a black church service, John undergoes the standard misadventures with misfits -- cops, nudists, park rangers, sideshow performers, thugs -- before being wised up on this journey to hell and back. Las Vegas translating as City of the Plains, it is a wonder that, among such tongue-in-cheek games, his starting point is not the City of Angels. Even a junkyard heavy is named Lucypher, a crib from De Niro as Angel Heart’s Louis Cyphre.
At the screening I attended, the self-conscious beginner’s puns and intended broader humor were greeted with an embarrassing silence only occasionally broken by light giggles. Asked about getting funding and name cast, Rhodes responded, “Divine intervention.” Neither the hoi polloi groundlings of Elsinore nor the nosebleed section literati of today will find much heavenly about Saint John of Las Vegas.
(Released by IndieVest Pictures and rated “R” for language and some nudity.)