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Movie Review

Saint John of Las Vegas

Saint John of Las Vegas
Actors crave a chance to work on this kind of quirky little character study. But despite an engaging performance in the title role by Steve Buscemi, this insignificant indie is just too slight to drum up much interest. It's easy to see why Buscemi may have been attracted to the role of John, a blank page of a guy, a terminal loser addicted to gambling who moves away from the temptations of Vegas to take a menial desk job at an insurance company in Albuquerque, N.M. Things seem to be going well, and he even strikes up a flirtation with his co-worker, Jill (Sarah Silverman), which signals a promising new beginning for his personal and professional life. The plot thickens when his boss (Peter Dinklage) asks him to join the company's best fraud investigator, Virgil (Romany Malco), as they look into a suspicious car accident outside Vegas. It's certainly a vote of confidence John doesn't want to pass up, but getting that close to Vegas is dangerous, considering his gambling habit.

Much of the rest of the film is structured like a buddy road comedy, as John and Virgil stumble into several wacky encounters with broadly drawn characters. These include a nude man (Tim Blake Nelson), a stripper in a wheelchair (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a park ranger (Jesse Garcia), and a very funny bit with a carnival's "human torch" neatly played by a masked John Cho.

Twists and intrigue take the story in different directions as John begins to assert himself and fight his demons, but the tone is uneven and the film never quite finds its footing. Part of the problem is an underdeveloped script by debuting writer-director Hue Rhodes. Much of the dialogue feels ad-libbed and the story not thought out well.

Still, it's a nice showcase for Buscemi, a fine actor who needs better projects. He doesn't make a huge career leap with this guy, but he makes the movie bearable to sit through and gives it whatever cohesion and style it has. As his partner, Malco also gets moments to shine and is well-cast, as is Silverman, who underplays her office worker and holds back the neurotic tics most of her previous outings have featured. It's always fun to see Dinklage, but he is completely wasted in the boss role and seems to be struggling to make something of it.

"Saint John of Las Vegas" makes good use of its Southwestern locations and creates a nice atmosphere of pure blandness that John blends into very well. It's not a bad movie; it's just not a good one, either.

Genre: Comedy.
Written and directed by: Hue Rhodes.
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Romany Malco, Peter Dinklage, Sarah Silverman,
Emmanuelle Chriqui, John Cho, Tim Blake Nelson, Jesse Garcia.

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