[Screen It]

(2014) (Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton) (PG-13)

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Drama/Action: Following the word of God, an Egyptian prince turns against his adoptive brother, the Pharaoh, to lead the Hebrews to the promised land.
It's 1300 B.C. and the Pharaoh Seti (JOHN TURTURRO) has continued the four centuries old use of enslaved Hebrews to build out Egypt, all while his military, led by his son, Rhamses (JOEL EDGERTON), and top general, Moses (CHRISTIAN BALE), quells any threats. Seti wishes Moses could be his successor, but since he was adopted as an infant and isn't in the blood line, that simply can't be.

Upon his father's passing, Rhamses takes control and is torn about how to respond to allegations from a viceroy, Hegep (BEN MENDELSOHN), that Moses is actually a Hebrew, something the general previously heard from a Hebrew elder, Nun (BEN KINGSLEY), but summarily dismissed.

When Moses prevents Rhamses from chopping off his sister's arm in search of the truth, the Pharaoh banishes Moses from the kingdom, much to the displeasure of Rhamses' mother, Tuya (SIGOURNEY WEAVER), who'd prefer him dead. The general then sets out, eventually reaching a small settlement where he meets his future wife, Sephora (MARIA VALVERDE).

Nine years later, they have a son, and Moses seems content leading this life. But when he ascends a forbidden mountain, he encounters a rock slide that renders him unconscious. When he comes to, he spots a burning bush and then a boy, Malak (ISAAC ANDREWS), who informs Moses that he must check on his people, the Hebrews, who are still suffering at the hands of Ramses.

Despite originally dismissing anything religious, Moses realizes the boy is actually God and accepts that calling and returns to the kingdom where he demands that Rhamses let the Hebrews go. The Pharaoh refuses and must then endure a number of plagues God sends his way. When Moses does indeed lead the Israelites out of Egypt and heads toward a crossing of the Red Sea, Rhamses follows him with his army, intent on destroying all of them.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Unlike the forbidden and sometimes dangerous nature of portraying Allah in any form, other religions are a bit more forgiving when it comes to God being depicted in films. Granted, I'm guessing more than a few traditionalists had an issue with Alanis Morisette playing the Almighty in Kevin Smith's "Dogma." Before her, Morgan Freeman played the big man upstairs in "Bruce Almighty" (which, I believe, was likely the first non-Caucasian portrayal in a big Hollywood movie) and more than a few eyebrows were raised years ago when beloved comedian George Burns accepted the role in the John Denver comedy "Oh, God!"

Only time will tell how the devout will view Isaac Andrews in the part in "Exodus: Gods and Kings." Never heard of him? C'mon, he was in "Hercules" with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, playing Arius. Yeah, I don't remember him in that either, but it's unlikely the 11-year-old will go unnoticed in Ridley Scott's take on the old and well-known tale of Moses being selected by God to lead his chosen people to the Holy land.

I actually found the casting of that part intriguing as it's a unique take on what's otherwise a long-standing traditional view of the older, bearded white man figure in Heaven (and can't God appear in whatever form He wants?), although I'm sure there are those who will see Scott's decision as one meant to marginalize, criticize , and so on God, Christianity and religion in general.

There are also those who will object to the casting of white actors (including Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Ramses, John Turturro as his father the Pharaoh, and Sigourney Weaver in a tiny part as his wife) in the roles of Arabic characters. Of course, that's a long-standing "tradition" in Hollywood (after all, Charlton Heston played Moses in "The Ten Commandments" and Val Kilmer voiced him in the animated "The Prince of Egypt), but such casting issues are the least of the worries in this Biblical epic that manages to live up to that latter descriptor in terms of visual effects, but not storytelling or emotional engagement.

Granted, there aren't many surprises to be had in this familiar story, but Scott's version -- where he works from a screenplay by Adam Cooper & Bill Collage and Jeffrey Caine and Oscar winner Steve Zaillian -- feels rushed yet overlong and oddly incomplete. Perhaps the earlier rumors are true of a 200-minute take once existing, but this 154-minute cut feels like a butchered version of the story focusing on the "highlights" (the plagues, the Red Sea bit and so on) rather than the overall tale and substance.

It also doesn't help that it has a bit of a contemporary vibe to it (at least in terms of viewers likely thinking, "Yeah, these are actors of today playing characters of old"), and that surfaces in the opening scene where Moses is dismissive of the rest of the superstitious lot around him. There's just something about the dialogue, its delivery and the performances that doesn't feel authentic. That's unlike Scott's earlier "swords and sandals" epic, "Gladiator," that felt real in its portrayal of those people in that time period.

After that rough start, things start to settle down, and it's not long before Moses learns from a Hebrew elder (Ben Kingsley) of his origins, a pivotal package of intel that gets back to Ramses. Considering the latter was jealous of his father favoring his adoptive brother, it's no surprise the pharaoh banishes Moses. The latter eventually comes across a settlement, quickly finds a wife and has a son, with the story then fast-forwarding nine years.

It's then that the burning bush and the boy as God parts arrive, followed by Moses' return home and then the various plagues (flies, locusts, frogs, skin lesions and a fairly graphic giant crocodile attack sequence). But the money shot -- shown in the previews and anticipated by everyone who knows the story -- is the parting of the Red Sea. Scott and his effects crew don't go the traditional route of a literal splitting of the waters. Instead, it's more in the "Hmmm, the sea is receding, that's odd" set-up for the inevitable tsunami arrival. The effects are fabulous in that regard, but the flick then slows down to a whimper of an ending.

It's hard to predict how the ultra-devout will respond to the film, but I'm guessing it won't be quite as vocal as occurred with this year's earlier biblical epic, "Noah." While I hate the notion of a long film being even longer, it's possible an extended version of this movie would work better than what's been delivered here. All of that said, I can't say I was ever overly bored and certainly didn't detest what's offered. Yet, the fact that much of it feels slightly off, doesn't gel into a cohesive whole, and never emotionally engaged me means "Exodus: Gods and Kings" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed December 3, 2014 / Posted December 12, 2014

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