Saint John of Las Vegas isn't currently among this heavenly company, but it is a new movie being released in select cities starting today.
Steve Buscemi — veteran of the gay classic Parting Glances and many other memorable films — stars as John, a compulsive gambler who has fled from Las Vegas following a run of bad luck. Now living in the decidedly less-full-of-temptation city of Albuquerque, John works for an auto insurance company headed by Mr. Townsend (the always-enjoyable Peter Dinklage). John also enjoys a flirtatious friendship with his cubicle neighbor, the excessively optimistic Jill (a great turn by comedienne Sarah Silverman).
Mr. Townsend assigns John to investigate a potential fraudulent claim involving a questionable car accident that took place outside Las Vegas. John is hesitant to return there, but the promise of a promotion lures him. Accompanied by Virgil (Romany Malco), the agency's top fraud-debunker, John confronts his addiction through a series of bizarre encounters with nude militants headed by a full-frontal Tim Blake Nelson, a stripper paralyzed from the waist down, and a human torch (played by an unrecognizable John Cho, who played Sulu in the recent Star Trek reboot) stuck inside his flammable outfit, among others.
Saint John of Las Vegas marks the feature debut of writer-director Hue Rhodes. He states in the press notes that this script was inspired by the "surreal" nature of modern corporate life. The film certainly is surreal at times, and simply baffling at others. I'm still not sure the climax's twist and its aftermath add up logically, but I won't give things away here.
Rhodes' effort sports many of the flaws found in filmmakers' freshman efforts, but there is also quite a bit to like. The performances are uniformly excellent and there is an effective, Tarantino-esque balance of humor and menace. The Vegas and New Mexico locations are attractive and well filmed.
This film is also the first production by IndieVest, a promising new independent company. IndieVest's mission/approach is explained in the press notes thusly: "Whereas most independent films are produced with the hopes of securing distribution after they are completed, IndieVest's model involves raising enough financing from its pool of investors (which includes Spike Lee and Stanley Tucci) to pay for both production and an independent theatrical release."
Saint John of Las Vegas is far from perfect, but so were most of the men and women venerated today as saints in heaven. Like them, Hue Rhodes and IndieVest definitely show potential.
UPDATE: Saint John of Las Vegas is now available on DVD from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.