Snake Eyes

Even Buscemi can't make St. John of Las Vegas a winner

Hue Rhodes, writer and director of St. John of Las Vegas, was a software engineer who quit his job to attend film school in New York. Conspicuously older than his 22-year-old classmates, Rhodes worked with extra determination, writing his screenplay in coffee shops around the city. He handed the script to everyone who would take it, and it eventually reached Steve Buscemi, who liked it and agreed to star in it. "Look, everybody works hard," Rhodes told the New York Daily News. "But luck certainly plays an important role."

Lady Luck must have worked overtime getting this film produced, because it's a remarkably rough, amateurish work, the kind of disorganized, absurdist piece one used to encounter years ago at local film festivals, never to be seen again except in the bargain bin.

The story is about an unlucky ex-gambler, John (Buscemi, a natural in roles like this), now gainfully but dully employed as an auto-insurance adjuster whose remaining vice is scratch-off lottery tickets. He has a crush on his smiley-face-obsessed co-worker, Jill (Sarah Silverman), and the two lurch awkwardly into a romance.

When John asks his boss (Peter Dinklage) for a promotion, he's appointed to investigate a fraudulent injury claim in Las Vegas alongside shady Virgil (Romany Malco). Rhodes claims, with unjustified loftiness, that the movie is based on Dante's Inferno, so John and Virgil's road trip is meant as a metaphorical descent into hell. The hell is for the viewer, who waits fruitlessly for something entertaining to come of the movie's freak parade, which includes a wheelchair-bound stripper, a sideshow human torch who ignites involuntarily and a troupe of naked, armed survivalists.

The movie has some endearing qualities — Buscemi's acting, the diminutive Dinklage's Office Space-style management spiel and Dondi Bastone's eccentric musical selections (Cajmere's "Percolator" thumping hypnotically at a strip club). But they don't much help this aimless shaggy-dog movie, which exemplifies the hubris of the beginning writer-director. Hue Rhodes the director needed to send Hue Rhodes the writer back to the coffee shop for a rewrite.

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