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Ben-Hur (3D)


Stars: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Sofia Black-D'Elia, James Cosmo, Pilou Asbaek, Moises Arias, David Walmsley

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Goodness knows why anyone would want to make another cinema version of Lew Wallace's hoary old epic but, having gone for it, you might at least expect them to make a decent fist of it. But this cut-to-the-bone take is more like a particularly torpid TV mini-series, with even the showcase chariot race playing third fiddle to the 1959 Oscar-winner and the (spectacular) 1925 silent film.

The 'prince' of a rich Jewish family in 25AD Jerusalem, Judah Ben-Hur (a wide-eyed Huston) is 'brother' to an adopted Roman, Messala (Kebbell); they are as competitive as they are inseparable. But Messala goes off to prove himself with the Roman army, returning three years later as a battle-hardened commander, demanding that Judah give him the names of some of the city's rebels.

Judah makes the mistake of taking in a wounded, rebellious zealot, Dismas (Arias), whose subsequent unleashing of an arrow against marching Roman legions sees Judah, deserted by Messala, condemned to life as a galley slave; his wife Esther (Boniadi, limp) escapes, but his mother and sister are taken away.

Five years on and, during a battle at sea, Judah's ship is sunk, with himself the only survivor; and the road to the chariot arena begins.

Huston, a less talented version of Joseph Fiennes, conveys none of the bitterness that emanated from Charlton Heston in the original, while Kebbell's Messala is just a thug. Freeman provides the only touch of class as Judah's post-slavery benefactor; maybe star power could ignite this to a degree, but Bekmambetov's hurried direction tends to flatten any hints of individual flair, and the 3D adds very little impact.

And don't get me started on the song at the end (no way Ben-Hur's credits should roll under a soppy song) or the absurdly happy ending for all concerned. In view of the lack of ambition and passion in the whole project, you have to ask: just what were they thinking?

David Quinlan

USA/Canada/Italy 2016. UK Distributor: Paramount (Paramount/MGM). Colour by deluxe.
123 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 03 Sep 2016