Saint John of Las Vegas
In the opening scene of SAINT JOHN OF LAS VEGAS, Steve Buscemi is looking into the camera (at a cashier on the other side) and giving a monologue about his night and random other things. He has a bruise on the side of his face and looks like he’s had a fun night. But when I was watching him, I thought to myself that this is the Steve Buscemi we haven’t seen since RESERVOIR DOGS and FARGO; he’s delivering some great lines, he’s confident and he seems to command the screen. It managed to get me excited for a movie I knew nothing about, but the film didn’t realize what it had and the momentum quickly faded.
John (Steve Buscemi) is an insurance rep that gets his big break when his boss (Peter Dinklage) assigns him to investigate a fraud case in Las Vegas with Virgil (Romany Malco). The case is pretty standard, but the two of them have trouble proving that ‘Tasty D Lite’ (Emmanuelle Chriqui) is lying. Their investigation leads them on a weird journey where they encounter a nudist colony, a circus act and a mob-owned junkyard. All the while, John has to fight his natural urge to gamble.
Steve Buscemi is an actor that needs dialogue and an opportunity to showcase his acting ability. He’s an ugly dude and he won’t draw in an audience on his name alone. Where he fails is when he plays a normal guy in somewhat pedestrian situations. I want to see him screaming and flailing about while the world is falling down around him. That’s kind of the problem with the film in that it didn’t push the envelope enough. We had a scene in a strip club where he elicits a lap dance from a crippled dancer. That should have been hilarious, or at the very least, awkward. But it wasn’t. We had another scene where John and Virgil encounter a nudist colony with nothing but older guys with guns. That should have been hilarious, but as I watched it, the film made it seem so normal. In a road trip movie (which this basically is), we need either a) spectacular dialogue or b) outlandish events. This movie didn’t provide either.
The highlight of the film, and really the only source of comedy, was found in a costumed John Cho as a troubled circus performer. At one point, John and Virgil have to question a circus performer that’s trapped in his explosive suit. So while John and him are talking, his suit sporadically bursts into flames. The idea was great, but once again, it just didn’t go far enough. There were so many things that could have happened with that gag and the entire scene consists of the two characters standing or sitting in front of one another and talking.
Considering the low expectations and the independent stature of the film, I will say that I was pleased with it. I was invested into John’s plight, even if I was disappointed with how his journey progressed. I really enjoyed the flashes of brilliance from Buscemi and the always great Romany Malco. But at the end of the film, I felt letdown with the fact they didn’t take advantages of the opportunities they had.