Ridley Scott's Biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” which tells the story of Moses freeing the Jewish slaves from the pharaohs of Egypt, fails on many levels, but the main one is that it's a droning bore.
Even the sorrowful moans that accompany the soundtrack score seem to echo the sentiment.
Scott's somber approach leaves no room for any kind of emotional or spiritual connection to the material, and it's difficult to drum up much sympathy or interest. Unlike Cecil B DeMille's classic “The Ten Commandments” (1956) or the animated “The Prince of Egypt” (1998), it’s not funny or campy enough to be purely entertaining. Only the Seven Plagues offer some kind of nasty distraction from the tedium. With horror movie mayhem, crocodiles snack on hundreds of extras and turn the Nile red, and slimy frogs infiltrate the Pharaoh's palace.
But the other plagues, especially the deaths of the firstborns, quickly put a damper on the fun. Even the climactic parting of the Red Sea is less impressive than in DeMille's movie.
Christian Bale plays Moses like a combination of Hamlet and Rambo, deadly serious, but able to kick some serious tail in battle. His character falls in love (with Maria Valverde) and marries, but with all the romance of a perfume ad.
Joel Edgerton is more interesting as the bad pharaoh, Ramses, coming across as a wall of artificial bluster designed to hide an inferiority complex. When he declares “I am the god!” he's as much trying to convince himself as anyone else.
Occasionally familiar faces – like John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver or Ben Kingsley – turn up, accompanied by a note of recognition, but little else.
But why we're even here is another question. Scott doesn't particularly seem to believe in his story. He has taken precautions to distance himself from religious association.
God appears here as a creepy child, and for some reason, whenever Moses and God talk, the movie shows a third character spying on them. In the spy's point of view, God is not visible, and it appears as if Moses is ranting to himself.
Scott doesn't seem particularly suited to these big battle epics, although he is continually drawn to them. “Exodus” is not unlike the interminable slogs through “Robin Hood,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and even the freakishly overrated Oscar-winner “Gladiator.”
Recently, he detoured back into smarter, better movies – “Prometheus” and “The Counselor” – and it's a shame to see him slip again. With “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” rather than letting his people go, he has let them down.
Exodus: Gods and Kings
Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Maria Valverde
Written by: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes