The life of Jesus has been dubbed "The Greatest Story Ever Told." The only mystery in Catherine Hardwicke's "The Nativity Story," however, is how she managed to turn his birth into such a listless affair.
I should have seen the signs, I guess. Reviewers who I normally trust faintly praised it with words like "respectful" and "earnest" which, in this case, turned out to be code for boring.
Which is all the more amazing given what Hardwicke had to work with. A rightfully paranoid King Herod who, hearing the prophesy of a "King of Kings" who will rise up for the people, orders up a killing spree. Meanwhile, of course, young Mary, after having a vision, finds herself impregnated with the son of God. She and hubby Joseph are forced to make the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Herod's census, and, well ... you know the rest.
Whether you choose to believe it or not (which, by the way, I do), it certainly sounds like a great story, doesn't it? So what was missing from Hardwicke's take? Almost throughout, it's missing any sense of drama, urgency or peril. It's as if, wanting to be the anti-Mel, she deliberately sucked all this right out of it.
And, what's most debilitating, is there is very little sense of wonder. Sure, it's there when we get to the big birth, but in this flick, which only clocks in at one hour and 45 minutes, it's just a long, long time coming.
And the acting? Given the raves for Keisha Castle-Hughes and the rest of the cast, I was expecting much more. With the exception of a clearly inspired Shohreh Aghdashloo as Mary's cousin Elizabeth, they all seem to wander through the flick in a daze, delivering their dialogue as woodenly as you can imagine. Even Herod, played by the usually reliable Ciaran Hinds, lacks any of the lust for power that should have driven him to a truly compelling performance.
Could it have been worse? Sure. At the opposite end from "respectful" I guess you could have had three cute little singing mice as the Three Wise Men, and Mary and Joseph could have been played by Kathy Griffin and Robin Williams. It pains me to say that that still might have been better than what Ms. Hardwicke churned out here.
Judging by the box office take, I'm far from alone in this assessment. It managed to take in a mere $8 million, even worse than studio New Line's most conservative prediction of $10 million.
So, is it impossible to make an entertaining movie about the bible? Certainly not. It's been done before, and I'm keeping the faith that it can be done many times again. Just not with this instantly forgettable flick.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Posted by Reel Fanatic at 5:40 AM