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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

CineVegas Dispatch: Saint John of Las Vegas

My trip to CineVegas almost got off to a very bad start on Wednesday when I got to the airport and belatedly realized that my driver license had expired two days earlier on my birthday. Oops. Fortunately, my oldest daughter was kind enough to drag herself out of bed at 6:30AM in response to my frantic phone call, pick up my passport from my house, and schlep it out to the airport for me in time for me to catch my flight, so all was well.
It’s my first time at CineVegas, and my first trip to Las Vegas at all, and I have to say, this is one fun festival. Given the many distractions Vegas has to offer, I’m pretty pleased with myself for catching four films so far (though I’ve still managed to make time for some Vegas-style fun as well). The fest opener was a curious film called Saint John of Las Vegas, the first feature by director Hue Rhodes, who also wrote the script.
While the rest of the fest takes place at the Palms Casino and Resort, the opener was held at Planet Hollywood and enthusiastically kicked off by Dennis Hopper, rising up from a stage trapdoor to the tune of “Born to Be Wild.” The theater at Planet Hollywood, according to the many large breasts on display on larger-than-life posters at the venue, normally hosts a burlesque show called Peepshow (which is apparently pretty popular, as we were unable to score tickets to it this weekend). There’s no shortage of scantily clad women here in Vegas, though, so I’m sure fest attendees inclined toward experiencing the fleshy, sexy side of Vegas won’t find it too hard to find other options.


As for the film, it stars Steve Buscemi as a (kind of) ex gambler who’s given up the fast life for the security of a desk job at an insurance company and a nice house in a gated community in Albuquerque. I have to imagine Rhodes is a pretty bright guy, given that his script is roughly a parallel to Dante’s Inferno envisioned as a road trip for Buscemi’s character, John and his co-worker, Virgil (Romany Malco) to investigate a possibly fraudulent claim, with John fighting his personal demons along the way. This is much more obvious in retrospect once you’re aware of it than it is if you’re watching the film cold, which to me is indicative that the idea didn’t translate quite as well to the screen as it might have.
In spite of a promising supporting cast including Peter Dinklage (excellent), Tim Blake Nelson and Sarah Silverman (completely wasted here as John’s perky, smitten co-worker with a penchant for smiley faces), the film mostly sputters along; the stakes (har-de-har) never seem that high, and many of the film’s quirks (a stripper in a wheelchair performing a lap dance, a guy who keeps catching on fire) tend to feel more like ideas that the director wanted to stick into the film rather than being inherent to driving the plot.
Buscemi is always great, of course, and Malco is quite good as well, but the weakness of the script is a big hurdle to get over, even given the overall strength of the performances. It’s not a terrible first effort by the director, whose bio says he’s a recovering software engineer-turned-filmmaker, and, given the loosely Vegas theme, not inappropriate for this fest, but it kind of made me wish The Hangover wasn’t opening until, say, August or something, so the fest could have opened with a more solidly comedic film instead. Nonetheless, I’m intrigued enough by the idea of a first-time director having such an intellectually ambitious idea that I’m interested to see what he does with his upcoming projects.
I’m not big on fest parties, but we did briefly stop by the opening shindig at Prive at Planet Hollywood (nice venue, if you’re into that sort of thing), where the goody bag, oddly enough, included a Texas Hold Em-Dreidel game, a pin promoting kosher ham, and bacon-flavored lip balm (because everything should smell like bacon, or so the balm tells me). I’ll take their word for it.

One Response to “CineVegas Dispatch: Saint John of Las Vegas”

  1. bunnybeth says:

    Sounds like a fun and productive time, Kim. Sorry things started out kind of stressful, but I’m glad oldest daughter was close by to save the day.
    I look forward to reading more.

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