Directed by Timur Bekmambetov.
Starring Jack Huston, Toby Kebbel, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbæk and Morgan Freeman. 123 mins
This remake of the oft told tale of brotherly rivalry in the Roman Empire rides into town like a biker in a Born To Lose leather jacket. “So what are ya remaking?” “I dunno, whadda ya got?” It's as if Hollywood has some kind of reverse OCD to original ideas: where there is order they have a compulsive need to mess it up. The irony is, of course, that a no star cast remake from the director of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is surely a far more risky project than almost any original script that might find itself passing across a desk at Paramount. I imagine someone in a prop department in Hollywood is now building an over sized boot to be directed at whoever was responsible for greenlighting it.
Which is not to say that the film is terrible. The cast is good and the visuals competent. It only has one real problem – its total failure to find any reason to justify its existence. It offers a brisk and lively skim read of Lew Wallace's tale, as if the script was written by someone watching the 1959 Charlton Heston version with their finger poised over the fwd button, keen to whiz pass all the boring bits. For older readers it is reminiscent of the Marty Feldman Lightning Coach Tour sketch about the speeded up day trip around London and the south coast: here's the bit with Judah Ben-hur (Huston) and Messala as young brothers (Kebbel), back on the bus, here's the bit where Messala returns to Jerusalem as a Roman Hero, back on the bus, here's the galley ship bit/ the leper colony/ the bit about Jesus and, at last, here's the Chariot Race before a quick trip to the crucifixion.
That the long dull film you fall asleep through at Christmas has been cut down to size would normally be a blessing but long and dull may be the only way to do Ben Hur. Previous generations would sit through it solemnly because it had Jesus in it. This version is much less A Story of The Christ (He's still there but he's kind of a plot device) and more like Gladiator but with only one action scene. And here's the real kicker – they've built an entire film around a sequence that seegeeyeyez can't improve on