No, One Night With the King isn’t a movie about a date with Elvis. Rather, it marks the most recent entry (after Facing the Giants and Love’s Abiding Joy) in the sudden burst of Christian-themed movies to hit theaters in recent weeks. And while higher production values and name actors manage to set the movie apart from those surrounding it, it ends up becoming tedious and drab.
The film tells the story of Queen Esther (Tiffany DuPont, Cheaper by the Dozen), who, according to Jewish tradition, stopped the genocide of thousands of Persian Jews by standing up for her faith in front of her husband, King Xerxes (Luke Goss, The Man, a Brit who appears to have been hitting the tanning bed in an attempt to look somewhat Arabic — at worst, this is offensive; at best, just plain creepy). The movie attempts to flesh out Esther’s story, but there just isn’t enough there to justify the film’s 123-minute running time. What works as parable becomes extremely boring when spread out over two hours.
DuPont and Goss aren’t strong enough actors to create any kind of sympathy or make much connection with the audience. They have zero chemistry, and their onscreen romance seems forced and manufactured. Their characters just sort of fall in and out of love for no good reason other than that the script deems it necessary. Since the climax of the story is grounded in their love, the end falls flat. What’s supposed to be an uplifting epic is more likely to find you asking what the big deal is.
This film’s shortcomings might have been less pronounced if the makers had decided against using impossibly stilted dialogue (since everyone knows that all ancient peoples spoke like they were in the King James Version of the Bible). And even this would be less of a problem if DuPont and Goss didn’t deliver their lines like they were in a high school production of Hamlet. The only actors that seem to have any idea how to handle this dialogue are John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) and Omar Sharif.
Which brings us to the film’s supposed major selling point: the teaming of Sharif and Peter O’Toole for the first time since Lawrence of Arabia (1962). While Sharif has a modest supporting role, O’Toole (despite his top billing) has maybe a minute of actual screen time, and frankly looks surprised to be there at all (my theory is that while he was sleeping, they yanked him out of bed and handed him a script before he could figure out what was going on). It’s such an obvious work-for-hire by all parties involved that you half expect Sir Ben Kingsley and the reanimated corpse of Marlon Brando to make cameos.
In its defense, the film is professionally done on a technical level, and isn’t as preachy as you might expect (though it does fall into that trap on occasion). But the overall idea of this as a Christian movie is a bit shaky, since other than a passing mention of the prophecy of a “king to rule all kings,” the story behind One Night with the King is based in Jewish tradition and the Old Testament. Nonetheless, it’s a film with a built-in audience. Rated PG for violence, some sensuality and thematic elements.
– reviewed by Justin Souther