[NOTE: Saint John of Las Vegas was shown during CineVegas 2009 but is opening this weekend in Las Vegas.]
Within the first two minutes of Hue Rhodes’ Saint John of Las Vegas, the writer-director demonstrates a poor understanding of the town that’s ostensibly the focus of his film. Steve Buscemi’s John, an insurance claims investigator and recovering gambling addict, walks into a Vegas convenience store and … buys a bunch of lottery tickets. Even some cursory research into Vegas would reveal that we don’t have a state lottery here, but that lack of info is indicative of the relative lethargy of Rhodes’ debut feature.
The good news is that this movie isn’t really about Vegas, so the factual slip isn’t fatal. This is mostly a movie about the trip to Vegas, which John takes from Albuquerque with his mysterious, possibly sinister co-worker Virgil (Malco) to investigate a claim. Along the way, he must face his demons and learn to embrace life in the form of a disturbingly perky co-worker (Silverman) who’s smitten with him. Unfortunately, the promised quirkiness is muted and dull, and the stakes seem much lower than they ought to. Buscemi is appealingly odd as usual, and the cinematography by Giles Nuttgens looks lovely, but the story sputters when it should soar.