Thankfully, the internet has been pretty quiet about the latest retelling of General Lew Wallace’s classic novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ; this latest is the fifth movie version, and that is not counting a 2010 television mini-series. I cannot imagine anyone expecting Timur Bekmambetov’s Ben-Hur (I never thought I would type that phrase) to rival one of Hollywood’s most famous and successful epics. 2000’s Gladiator, with its sword-and-sandals tale of revenge starring a beefy scene-chewer, is way more of a rival to 1959’s Ben-Hur than this latest adaptation.
Jack Huston (best known as “Boardwalk Empire”’s disfigured marksman Richard Harrow) acceptably, if weakly, takes the mantle of Jewish prince turned galley-slave turned chariot-racer Judah Ben-Hur, who seeks revenge upon his adopted Roman brother, Messala (Toby Kebbell). Morgan Freeman pops up as the Nubian sheik who sponsors Ben-Hur in the climactic circus.
Ben-Hur accomplishes little as faith-based cinema; Jesus, in the form of Love Actually’s Rodrigo Santoro, shows up to do some good deeds. Kazakh action specialist Bekmambetov (Wanted) successfully revamps the big chariot race for modern audiences raised on CGI, but what young cinephile would watch this less-than-epic Ben-Hur just because the chariot race effects are better?