Rated PG-13, 123 minutes
Well, at least they tried. That's about all you can say for the big-budget remake of the 1959 Oscar-winning classic Biblical film "Ben-Hur." Bland, sluggish and just plain dull, the new "Ben-Hur" is a disappointment, in spite of a lavish budget and a few exciting action sequences. A Jewish nobleman, Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), is falsely accused of treason by his childhood friend, adoptive brother and Roman soldier Messala (Toby Kebbell). He survives years of slavery under the Romans and attempts to get revenge by challenging Messala to a grand chariot race while being forever changed after a series of encounters with Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro). Directed by "Wanted's" Temur Bekmambetov and based on the classic Lew Wallace novel "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ," the new and handsome "Ben-Hur" is an unnecessary, forgettable remake with the wrong director at the helm. It's also lacking in a coherent, emotionally powerful story the original had, as well as any big names to carry the story along; the big name here is Morgan Freeman, but he doesn't show up until the second hour. As the leads, Huston and Kebbell are good but bland and unmemorable, unknown to most audiences; there's the hot Jesus, played here by Brazilian actor Santoro, who comes in and out to provide solace and give advice such as "love your enemies" - too bad he can't save the movie. The narrative is choppy and mishandled by Bekmambetov, an action director who is the wrong choice for an epic like this - where's Ridley Scott when you need him? The climactic chariot race, so memorably handled in the 1959 original, is serviceable here late in the second act but is filled with too much CGI. The latest "Ben-Hur" wants you to forgive each other and get along, and that's all good and fine, but this faith-based film is still a misfire, and really belongs as a special event on A&E, where it probably would've played better than on the big screen.