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CAPSULE MOVIE REVIEWS

'Saint John of Las Vegas' veers off the road despite Steve Buscemi

Also reviewed: '3 Idiots.'

January 29, 2010
  • John (Steve Buscemi), left, works at an insurance company but is a compulsive gambler.
John (Steve Buscemi), left, works at an insurance company but is a compulsive… (Associated Press )

The presence of the ever-reliable Steve Buscemi adds a welcome boost to "Saint John of Las Vegas," an otherwise unremarkable debut feature from writer-director Hue Rhodes. At first, this askew look at Buscemi's John Alighieri (yes, as in Dante), a compulsive Sin City gambler self-exiled to an insurance company desk job in Albuquerque, promises some decent comedy in the "Office Space" vein. But after it turns into a road movie filled with more forced quirkiness than inspired story development, it's clear this one's going nowhere not-so-fast.

The oft-used ploy of forcing an odd couple into a car and sending them off to uncharted territory is trotted out yet again here, but to minimal comic or emotional effect. Maybe that's because the relationship between said opposites -- the jumpy John and his company's cool, cigarette-flicking fraud debunker Virgil (Romany Malco) -- never really meshes. Or maybe it's the fact that the pair's mission -- to investigate a suspicious car accident insurance claim outside Las Vegas -- feels so slight.

Wacky supporting characters, gamely played by Sarah Silverman, Peter Dinklage, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Tim Blake Nelson and John Cho, among others, offer fleeting, head-scratching amusement. But it's the luckless John's ongoing attempts to hit a Lotto jackpot that provide the film's most memorable moments. If only there were more of them.

-- Gary Goldstein

"Saint John of Las Vegas." MPAA rating: R for language and some nudity. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. At the Landmark, West Los Angeles.

'Idiots' team for jolly mayhem

To leery American moviegoers, the title "3 Idiots" might sound like something eminently dismissible, but in the month since its initial Asian release it's become the highest-grossing Bollywood film ever. It's easy to see why too, as director Rajkumar Hirani's coming-of-age epic toggles entertainingly between a close-knit trio of engineering school students and their fortunes 10 years later.

Sporting a culturally resonant message (about following one's passion), it boasts a hard-to-resist genre multi-pack of college high jinks, familial drama, screwball romance, inspirational heart-tugging, tragedy, musical interludes and even an identity mystery. Rascally appealing Indian megastar Aamir Khan plays central figure Rancho, a generous free spirit who tries to convince his uptight chums Farhan (R Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi) -- not to mention the institute's success-obsessed mentor (Boman Irani) -- that learning should be joyful, not a will-breaking means to a predetermined ideal of social status.

A movie that runs the gamut from bodily function gags to suicide attempts to a childbirth rescued by makeshift vacuum technology may not be interested in tonal consistency, but there's an unavoidable joie de vivre (symbolized by Rancho's meditative mantra "All is well") and a performance charm that make this one of the more naturally gregarious Bollywood imports.

-- Robert Abele "3 Idiots." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 2 hours, 44 minutes. In general release.

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