The power of Christ compels a sizable demographic. How else to explain the existence of this cheap-looking, poorly directed and performed religious feature (based on a novel by Interview With the Vampire’s Anne Rice!) about 7-year-old Jesus of Nazareth (Adam Greaves-Neal) as he first becomes aware of his prophetic fate? It’s a little bit Boyhood and a whole lotta Bible — or at least whatever vaguely right-leaning spin director and co-writer Cyrus Nowrasteh (The Stoning of Soraya M.) feels like putting on that Book Among Books.
So on the one hand we get a beatifically innocent savior whose central casting adorableness (Caucasian and British-accented, even!) is just a few creepily removed steps from Village of the Damned. And on the other we get a “Demon,” but let’s just call him Satan (Rory Keenan), who is the very epitome of metrosexual lechery: He constantly appears to the Messiah-in-training to show him terrifying visions (like the holy city Jerusalem engulfed in flames), and otherwise seductively saps the young boy’s spiritual certainty — all while looking fabulous, of course. (Gehenna certainly has a hell of a goatee barber.)
A vision of another sort sets this speculative scriptural tale in motion: Jesus’s earthly father, Joseph (Vincent Walsh), has a dream that the bloodthirsty King Herod has died, which allows him, his virginal wife Mary (Sara Lazzaro), and the rest of the family to return to Nazareth after years in exile. But Herod’s son (Jonathan Bailey) — clearly evil because he continuously hikes up his royal robe to show off his attractively hairy gams — is now in charge and intent on killing this miracle child once and for all. In his employ is Roman centurion Severus (Sean Bean), no relation to the Hogwarts instructor of the same name, who is having a crisis of conscience. He’s just, like, enough already with all the baby-killing! And though Severus dutifully seeks out the young Christ in accordance with his royal master’s murderous orders, it’s clear there will be repentance instead of blood.
The Young Messiah is just, like, barely competent enough that the faith-based target audience won’t feel entirely cheated. They’ll likely settle, as so many of us do, for a work of art that tells them what they want to hear, especially something so unquestioningly reverential toward its subject matter. What they’ll also get is gaudily overlit imagery (sadly, courtesy of X-Files cinematographer Joel Ransom) that seems like it should be part of a History Channel reenactment instead of a major motion picture, and performers involved in varying levels of paycheck-cleared-yet? debasement.
Bean does his best to make Severus’s moral qualms resonate, though the scene in which he finally has his change of heart is filmed with all the profound grace of a laxative commercial (which admittedly complements the actor’s constipation-face reaction shots). But the best worst performance comes from Christian McKay as Jesus’s wacky uncle Cleopas. He seems to have taken playing Orson Welles in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles to heart — this is a hambone performance that could easily rank alongside any of the Citizen Kane auteur’s cash-grab gigs. After Joseph suggests they hide from Herod Jr.’s armies in caves, Cleopas cries out, with Paul Masson-shilling élan, “I hate hiding in caves!”
That’s where this movie should be put … and hopefully never resurrected like Lazarus.
Production company: 1492 Pictures, CJ Entertainment
Cast: Sean Bean, Vincent Walsh, Jonathan Bailey, Rory Keenan, Sara Lazzaro, Christian McKay, Adam Greaves-Neal
Director: Cyrus Nowrasteh
Screenwriter: Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh and Cyrus Nowrasteh, based on the novel by Anne Rice
Cinematographer: Joel Ransom
Editor: Geoffrey Rowland
Music: John Debney
Rated PG-13, 111 minutes