Top-billed Buscemi scores in Saint John of Las Vegas
FILM The beautifully complexioned Michael Cera is giving him a run for the scratcher bucks, but I continue to believe in Steve Buscemi as the patron saint of geeks everywhere. Still as bug-eyed and teeth-chatteringly anxious as a terminally neurotic pug and now slightly thinner of hair and skinnier of bod Buscemi has been bringing a ravenously hungry Ichabod Crane air to his portraits of suburban angst lately, last witnessed in Youth in Revolt, as Cera's pop in the throes of a midlife crisis. You didn't question Buscemi's pressure-cooker rage at his cinematic offspring's budding rebellion: he's been there and done that, man and darn if he'll put up with it from his revolting kid.
That cameo was far too brief, so luckily along comes Saint John of Las Vegas to give Buscemi-philes a good long, yummy drink of our nerd overlord. His goofy Mr. Pink anti-cool has weathered nicely into a finely wrinkled facsimile of those nicotine-stained, pompadoured and comb-overed casino codgers you can find dug in on Vegas' Fremont Street.
John's a gambler fed up with the long odds and late nights, running from a vaguely sketchy past, so he has decided to consciously choose the straight path. "I never had a desk job before, but I watched it on TV," goes the opening voice-over. Read: a solid cubicle job at an auto insurance company. Breaks in the off-white monotony are spent flirting with sexy coworker Jill (Sarah Silverman) who has a penchant for slapping smiley faces on everything from her file folders to her fingernails. Apparently John isn't the only one determined to put a happy face on life.
After summoning the courage to make a play for a raise (and Jill), John is enlisted by his tough little man of a boss (Peter Dinklage) to become a fraud inspector. He's placed under the tutelage of Virgil (Romany Malco of Weeds) this is, after all, very, very loosely based a certain Divine Comedy. Off our would-be pals go on John's tryout case, Virgil aloof and knowing and John empathizing with the many quirky characters they encounter: a naked militant (Tim Blake Nelson) here and a circus performer with an out-of-hand flame suit (John Cho) there.
When their journey ends, you can't help but be disappointed because you really don't want this sweet-natured first film by director-writer and onetime Silicon Valley hotshot Hue Rhodes to end. It's such a treat to watch Buscemi work, pulling the spooky-tooth tics and rattled nerves out of his bag of mannerisms. And it's fitting that he has arrived here, because from its star to its bit players, Saint John offers a gentle Hail Mary to the usually less-than-visible guys and gals in the cameos.
SAINT JOHN OF LAS VEGAS opens Fri/12 in Bay Area theaters.