Judged solely as filmmaking and storytelling — and viewed apart from its obvious religious trappings — Christopher Spencer’s Son of God has nary a thing going for it. Culled from the 10-hourlong TV miniseries, The Bible, and repackaged as a feature film, Son of God looks and feels every bit like its television origins. A small budget and overwrought acting make an already overly sincere and melodramatic retelling of the life of Jesus feel all the more like amateur hour. This is, after all, a movie with a beautifully coiffed Portuguese Jesus (TV actor Diogo Morgado) who boasts exactly one thespianic gear — ham-fisted sincerity — and an often awkward accent. Meanwhile, a severely botoxed Mary (TV actress Roma Downey) can barely make a facial expression. Moreover, the film adds nothing to the story of Jesus, feeling more like a collection of Christ’s greatest hits.
The film is a lot of preaching to the choir, but even if you’re unfamiliar with Jesus’ life, I don’t see how you can expect to get much out of Son of God. There’s obviously an expectancy of familiarity here. As a result, every character — including Jesus — is merely sketched in. There’s no emotional weight to being the son of God, no change or growth, just a simple retelling of Biblical lore. This, obviously, isn’t an obscure tale, and Son of God portrays it in the most matter-of-fact way possible. There’s a lot of very dramatic music (thanks to a pretty typical overblown Hans Zimmer score) and fits of slow motion, but this is all window dressing. Not much happens besides a lot of talking and a good bit of Jesus and company roaming the countryside performing miracles. Even the miracles get to be a bit iffy considering the budget, and the more high-concept pieces — like Jesus walking on water — simply look hokey.
All of this, of course, is leading up to the Crucifixion, which, is extremely — and probably needlessly — bloody. It all feels like little more than a tamer approximation of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), which, no matter how wrongheaded, at least had some scope. Son of God is definitely a more populist take on Jesus, but it’s also a version that just oozes been there, done that, turning the greatest story ever told into a shallow, superfluous soap opera. Rated PG-13 for intense and bloody depiction of the Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence.
Playing at Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher.