Review: Risen, C+
Rated PG-13, 107 minutes
The lack of quality is the biggest thing that has made me a non-believer in the rise of the faith-based genre of films of the last few years (and I can say that as a Christian). The modestly enjoyable new drama "Risen," directed and written by Kevin Reynolds ("Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and TV's "Hatfield and McCoys") is a decent historical epic that will rank as one of the better films of the genre - though that's not saying much given such dreadful films as last year's "War Room" - and in spite of a sluggish middle act, it has a handful of poignant scenes without being overly heavyhanded. Clavius ("Shakespeare in Love's" Joseph Fiennes), a powerful Roman Military Tribune, and his aide Lucius (Tom Felton, of "Harry Potter"), are tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to Jesus in the weeks following the crucifixion, in order to disprove the rumors of a risen Messiah and prevent an uprising in Jerusalem. Tastefully executed and blandly entertaining, "Risen" is the Bibilical epic formed in the vein of Biblical classics such as "The Robe" and "Ben-Hur," that show a different viewpoint to the Christ story. This time it's from the viewpoint of one of the Roman pagans trying to make sense of it all, part mystery-thriller and part Biblical epic, it suffers from a rather stodgy tone and lack of wonder and an emotional core that the story needs, but Reynolds, who comes from a Christian background (his father was the head of Baylor University for years), proves you can execute the story with a decent budget and cast without the need to convert - the story should do that on its own if needed. Filmed in Spain and Malta, "Risen" is blessed with detailed sets and costumes that evoke the time period, and the story is well-handled enough that most will overlook the liberties it takes as the fictional Clavius essentially becomes a disciple; there are some characters that ring with authenticity (such as having a darker-skinned actor, "The Walking Dead's" Cliff Curtis, portray Jesus), though others don't come across as well (Bartholomew - one of the lesser disciples - is played with a goofy naivete that doesn't fit in here). The second act is a bit of a slog until it reaches its harmless conclusion, when most of the characters simply go their own way with little explanation. Christians shouldn't worry this time, the lackluster "Risen" won't generate controversy like "Noah" or "The Last Temptation of Christ," but lacking the same energy as Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ," which this film was designed to be an unofficial sequel to.