The Greatest Story Ever Told gets the CSI treatment in "Risen," a passionless tale of the Passion.
Starring Joseph Fiennes, in what will amount to be his warmup role to bizarrely play Michael Jackson, Fiennes plays Clavius, a Roman tribune sent out to investigate how Jesus's body vanished following the crucifixion. Expecting to uncover a cynical conspiracy propped up to inspire a rebellion that could undermine the empire.
Hollywood history has no lack of Jesus movies, but this effort from director Kevin Reynolds ("Waterworld") deserves credit for digging up a fresh take on the New Testament story, especially because it explores aspects of the nuts and bolts of the story that the Gospels tend to be vague on.
The only problem is that the story can only go one way, due to the ultra-sensitive nature of the material. Anything less than an inspirational tale of a hard-hearted Roman literally finding Jesus and learning to value faith over stark evidence would lead to a "The Last Temptation of Christ"-level heresy, complete with protests and bitter feelings all around.
"Risen" fails to live up to its title because it understandably plays safe and stiff. As Clavius tracks down guards, disciples and Sanhedrin members to put together his case, he's trudging down a slow, one-way path to salvation.
Lacking the grandeur of "Ben-Hur" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told" and the grizzliness of "The Passion of the Christ" and saddled with a perfunctory script "Risen" is left to thrive or fizzle on the strength of its cast, which amounts to Fiennes and the Not-Fines.
The biggest name is Tom Felton, Lucius Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" movies, which gives you an idea of where the budget's at. Money and starpower doesn't always equal cinematic success, but it doesn't hurt. The eager troupe of C-listers fail to match the star's fire, ranging from bland (Maria Botto as Mary Magdalene) to lifeless (Peter Firth as Pontius Pilate) to embarrassingly buffoonish (Cliff Curtis in a goofy take on Jesus). Even with a capable cast, the movie would have been slow and rigid, but at least it would have had a spark.
"Risen" isn't bad enough to chuckle or roll your eyes through, but nor is it entertaining or engaging. It's a solemn take on a by-the-numbers message movie, and yet another case of the book being better than the movie.