Movieline CineVegas Scorecard: Holly Madison, 1; Sarah Silverman, 0

The 2009 CineVegas Film Festival kicked off Wednesday with the world premiere of St. John of Las Vegas, filmmaker Hue Rhodes's quirk-addled feature debut. A low-key (for Vegas, anyway) red carpet preceded the screening, where leading man Steve Buscemi was a no-show, co-star Sarah Silverman rocked cargo pants and a backpack, and we joined Holly Madison of all people on a stroll down art-house memory lane. And -- bonus -- we awoke with all our teeth! A full recap follows the jump.

The premiere at Planet Hollywood was CineVegas's biggest opening night in its 11-year run, packing around 900 people into the hotel/casino's makeshift movie theater upstairs. Having just missed Carrot Top's grand entrance, we caught the next-best runner-up in attendance: Holly Madison, who fled Robin Leach's grilling into Movieline's Bunny-ready sanctuary. She acknowledged having no connection to the film itself but nevertheless waved her indie flag with all her might. Bless her heart, but it was kind of a small flag.

"You know what movie I liked?" Madison asked. "It's kind of from a long time ago, it's kind of a smaller film: Welcome to the Dollhouse? I saw it when I was in high school, and I really loved that one. I just kind of saw myself in the nerdy little girl. I liked the style of it -- it was a lot of second-hand clothes and kind of that nerdy '70s look. And I just kind of fell for that character. I thought she was really cute."

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I told her I didn't take her for a Todd Solondz type. "Maybe a little bit?" We stared at each other. She smiled. "Yeah, I know, you're like, 'Uh-huh, uh-huh.'"

But before we could get to the corrupt sexual politics of Happiness, she was gone, followed not-so-closely behind by Silverman, who labored through about 10 interviews (reportedly even terminating one when she complained about her interrogator chewing gum) before being whisked into the theater. "But Sarah--" I wailed, coughing violently on her trail of stardust. Self-medicating in the theater with complementary popcorn and primo people-watching, gaping at festival chairman Dennis Hopper's dramatic, up-through-the-trap-door entrance to "Born to Be Wild," I left the reviewing duties to intrepid Movieline contributor Don Lewis.

Corresponding this morning, this grizzled CineVegas veteran was more than a little underwhelmed:

[It] isn't so much a bad film as it is a totally mediocre one, and everyone expects a better opening salvo from a festival stocked with highly touted festival standouts and never-before-seen films that are gaining buzz and momentum. Buscemi is solid in his full-on droopy dog loser mode, and Silverman actually does some real acting as his stalkerish girlfriend Jill. Two very good performances, lost on a film that is destined for DVD shelves if it's lucky.

Speaking of which, luck is the film's central theme. The title character (played by Buscemi) has tons of it; unfortunately, it's all bad. Spending all his money on lottery tickets, John lives a meager life as an insurance claims phone rep who one day decides he deserves a raise. Striding confidently into his boss's office, John is instead sent on a mission to disprove a hefty insurance claim with surly co-worker Virgil (Romany Malco). It's a test to see if the meek John has what it takes to make it in the mean, cutthroat world of insurance fraud. And away they go in a story that, when the lights come up, makes you say 'Yup, that was an indie film. Right there. On the screen.' Then you never think about it again.

Oh, come on, Don -- anything in which a wheelchair-bound stripper and/or spontaneously combusting carnival workers provide crucial plot points can't be that bad. Yet he's right about Buscemi, whom Silverman lauded after the film.

"Steve is, like, so incredible," she told the audience during the Q&A. "You do a scene with him and you just forget that you're in the scene, too. You're just watching him, and he's got these big, like, saucer eyes. You know, he's like a real actor's-actor guy, but he still hung out [for] dinner. He was really silly. I mean, he really..." Silverman paused. "I'm trying not to say 'retarded.'" Go ahead -- you're among friends here. I think.

[Top photo: WireImage]



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