Albuquerque insurance company owner Mr. Townsend (Peter Dinklage) sends claims adjuster John (Steve Buscemi) and fraud investigator Virgil (Romany Malco) to Las Vegas to prove that stripper Tasty D-Lite (Emmanuelle Chriqui) was not rear-ended in her 1970 Buick and suffered a neck injury. Citing Dante Alighieri and William Eggleston as inspirations, writer-director Hue Rhodes accessorizes this on-the-road comedy with Sundance-stale quirk. John originally relocated to New Mexico to beat his gambling jones, so his return to Nevada on business suggests a relapse is in the cards. Most of the story is structured as a flashback from the night he attempts to buy $1,000 worth of lottery tickets at a convenience store in the desert. His voiceovers and dream sequences add few laughs. In the adjoining cubicle, there’s Jill (Sarah Silverman) with smiley-faced fingernails who wants to play footsie. Random local color is supplied by an angry, heavily armed nudist and a despondent sideshow act who’s trapped in his “Human Torch” suit by a busted on/off switch, waiting for his fuel supply to run out. Buscemi’s signature persona was the known quantity attached for baiting out-of-state gamblers to bankroll this made-to-order indie. “This is your opportunity to become a true industry insider,” invites the internet site of IndieVest Pictures. Although pitched as “a managed-risk opportunity,” “St. John of Las Vegas” pays out few dividends for the audience. Rhodes only manages to diminish the marquee value of his bankable cast. There’s no tie-in with a new edition of “The Inferno.” With Isabel Archuleta, Tim Blake Nelson, Jesse Garcia, John Cho, Aviva. 85m. (Bill Stamets)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.