Here's a fascinating bit of trivia about the 1880 novel Ben-Hur that you’d never guess from watching the pedestrian new movie version: It was subtitled A Tale of the Christ, and made Judah Ben-Hur's conversion a significant part of the story. In the movie, everything Jesus-related feels like an afterthought, like they forgot it was supposed to be a religious drama and wedged some Christianity into it at the last minute. The central narrative—about the enslaved Jewish prince (Jack Huston) seeking revenge against his treacherous Roman best friend Messala (Toby Kebbell)—is a rote recitation of plot points without energy or humanity, and Judah gets to a place of "forgive and forget" mostly on his own, not through the influence of peripheral Jesus. Director Timur Bekmambetov (who's made mostly vampire movies before now) handles the sea battle and the chariot race with aplomb—though the latter sequence pales in comparison to the legendary 1959 version—and Morgan Freeman is a welcome presence as the African who bets on Judah's charioteering. But the plodding, pointless remake never presents a valid reason for its own existence.
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