Chariots of dire
+Director: Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) Starring: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer
ONCE upon a time, when people were really excited about something and wished to convey its massive magnitude, they used to say “it’s bigger than Ben-Hur!”.
Though Ben-Hur has been adapted for the screen since the dawn of movies, its epic reputation is all about the famous 1959 Hollywood adaptation of author Lew Wallace’s 19th century biblical best-seller.
That was the one where a mostly shirtless, always grimacing Charlton Heston suffered all kinds of indignities at the hands of the ancient Romans. Then showed ’em up by winning chariot racing’s equivalent of the Melbourne Cup.
The movie won 11 Oscars, played in cinemas for years, and was pretty much the Titanic and Avatar of its era all rolled into one.
Now here comes a new version, blessed with a massive budget, the best CGI effects that budget can buy, and, umm, Morgan Freeman with some funky grey dreadlocks superglued to his head.
Before we address this feeble film as a whole, let’s leave out the chariot race sequence from the overall assessment.
Though it’s a choppy, croppy cyclone of CGI horses galloping at breakneck speed and mowing down any prone pedestrians who happen to be on the track, it’s a darn exciting spectacle in its own right.
If you were charged no more than a fiver to catch the race as a standalone short, it would be a pretty sweet must-see deal. But no, you’ll have to sit through 100 minutes of turgid New Testament soap opera to get to the good stuff. Most of the slog is caused by the stilted best-offrenemies banter shared by Jewish nobleman-slave Judah Ben-Hur (the charisma-challenged Jack Huston) and Roman military officer Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell, not bad under the circumstances).
There are also plenty of unexciting battle scenes full of clanking swords, whooshing spears and blood-stained lace-up sandals. All the male actors speak loudly and kind of slowly, as if they’re addressing an elderly relation who won’t buy a new battery for their hearing aid. All the female actors dart their eyes this way and that, and look increasingly worried from scene to scene, just in case we might forget Jerusalem was not a great place to be in the year 30 A.D.
Though that location and date ensures there will be a featured cameo role for the one and only Jesus Christ, he is played by a hipsterish hunk (Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro) who messes up the holy trinity of beard, hair and divine presence completely.
The dude looks more like the best barista to ever hail from Bethlehem than a soon-to-be son of God.
Suffice to say, this ain’t no Ben-Hur. It is a Ben-Huh?