Toby Kebbell and Jack Huston in Ben-Hur (2016)


(director: Timur Bekmambetov; screenwriters: Keith Clarke/John Ridley/from the book by Lew Wallace; cinematographer: Oliver Wood; editor: Dody Dorn; music: Marco Beltrami; cast: Jack Huston (Judah Ben-Hur ), Toby Kebbell (Messala Severus), Morgan Freeman (Hderim), Rodrigo Santoro (Jesus), Pilou Asbæk (Pontius Pilate), Nazanin Boniadi (Esther), Sofia Black D’Elia(Tirzah Ben Hur), Ayelet Zurer.(Naomi Ben Hur); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Sean Daniel/Joni Levin/Duncan Henderson; Paramount; 2016)

I could find nothing appealing in this tedious remake of the silent 1925 and the colorful 1959 biblical epics.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

I could find nothing appealing in this tedious third remake of the silent 1925 and the colorful 1959 biblical epics. All three films are adaptations from lawyer and Gen. Lew Wallace’s timeless 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Russian-Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted”/”Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter“) keeps it stiff as a belabored faith-based Christian apologist experience, with the characters puppets on the string who deliver artificial upbeat religious messages amidst all the unaffected violence. Writers Keith Clarke and John Ridley deliver a flat script for this overlong bore. Even the adequately done but not too thrilling CGI-heavy center-piece 15-minute-long chariot race adds little to this stodgy film. Previously the William Wyler version already nailed the race with a memorable wild-eyed Charlton Heston performance. This 3-D version has characters with no depth or personality, a story that never excites, action scenes that seem perfunctory and in a lumbering way it pays lip service to its theme about forgiveness. Judah Ben Hur (Jack Huston, English actor and the grandson of John Huston), the miscast leaden star, is the wealthy Jewish prince in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. His adopted oily brother and best childhood friend is the Roman orphan Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell). In an even more wasted performance he has to read lines that only make you gasp with disbelief. Falsely accused of sedition after a zealot releases an arrow at the governor during a Roman parade through Jerusalem, Judah Ben Hur is made a galley slave, his family home taken and his parents secretly placed under arrest. Five years later Judah survives the Roman war ship wreckage and swims ashore to hook up with the dreadlock-sporting African nomad leader (Morgan Freeman), a horse trainer, who sponsors him to enter the chariot race at the circus to oppose Messala Severus. Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro) is ridiculously characterized preaching his forced love message as he’s led to the cross. Of note, one of Jesus’ followers is Judah’s sweetheart, Esther (Nazanin Boniadi). Both characters come off as unbelievable caricatures of real people, as the human touch has not rubbed off on any character in this spiritless adaptation.