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Released 9 September 2016
Director Timur Bekmambetov

Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Nazanin Boniadi, Morgan Freeman, Rodrigo Santoro, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black-D'Elia
Writer(s) Keith R. Clarke, John Ridley

Mark Burnett, Sean Daniel, Duncan Henderson, Joni Levin
Origin United States
Running Time 125 minutes
Genre Action, adventure, drama
Rating 12A

Epic fail.

If we're talking about getting the most bang for your buck, you'd have to admit that the story of Ben-Hur pretty much has it all; chariots, horses, Jesus, lepers, brotherly betrayal, Morgan Freeman with dreadlocks, more horses, crucifixions, miracles etc. Everything about the tale has “EPIC” written all over it. And yet, this new version from director Timur Bekmambetov is curiously aimless and unexciting.

Ben Hur (Danny Huston) is a handsome, rich and popular chap living in Jerusalem. He has a pretty charmed life, which he mainly spends riding horses, throwing parties and making eyes at beautiful servant girls, all while wearing what look suspiciously like denim jeans... All is good until political forces start encroaching on his life – the Romans are taking over his land and violent insurrection is just around the corner. While Ben wants everyone to just get along, his adopted Roman brother Severus (Toby Kebbell) craves war and recognition. The brothers clash and Ben is wrongfully incarcerated by the Romans. Years later, the brothers meet again to fight it out in a chariot race.

Writing a synopsis for this film is a challenge in itself. I haven't even mentioned where Morgan Freeman's dreadlocks come in, or the fact that a very handsome Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro) is floating around the margins of the story. There is just so much plot that even after the climactic chariot race the film limps on for another half an hour. The voiceovers and title cards that Bekmambetov uses in an attempt to deal with this plot problem are hardly dynamic and I quickly lost interest in proceedings save for the odd unintentional moment of humour – is it possible to watch a film set in the streets of Jerusalem without thinking of Michael Palin's ex-leper from The Life of Brian?

The famous 1959 version of this story starring Charlton Heston wasn't all that great in the first place but re-making this kind of thing today feels pretty pointless. The execution of the story is clumsy and the whole thing is more hammy and cheesy than a good quiche.

- Linda O'Brien