'Samson': Film Review

Where's Cecil B. DeMille when you need him?
2/16/2018

The familiar biblical tale is retold in this latest effort from Pure Flix, the studio specializing in faith-based films.

After numerous films attempting to persuade its religious audiences that God indeed exists (God's Not Dead, The Case for Christ, etc.), Pure Flix Entertainment has decided to go directly to the source. Mining the territory that fueled so many cheesy Hollywood epics, Samson represents the umpteenth retelling of the particular biblical tale that has the box-office advantage of featuring plenty of sex and violence. Unfortunately, this effort that all too clearly reveals its low budget is unlikely to erase anyone's memories of Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah or any other versions of the story. The faithful will support it to some degree, but the film's best hope for commercial success is attracting theatergoers unable to get into sold-out Black Panther screenings.

Taylor James, whose most notable prior screen credit is "Atlantean Military Messenger (uncredited)" in Justice League, plays the title role. He's certainly got the requisite brawny, chiseled physique, looking awfully impressive shirtless smiting Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. Unfortunately, what God has bestowed in looks He hath taketh away in charisma, with the result that James' performance is more wooden than Victor Mature's. And that's saying something.

Of course, in biblical epics it's usually the villains who garner the most attention, as evidenced by Stephen Boyd in Ben-Hur and Yul Brynner in The Ten Commandments (Charlton Heston starred in both, if you're sensing a pattern). That's certainly the case here, with Billy Zane as the Philistines' King Balek and Jackson Rathbone as his diabolical son Rallah. Both seem to be having a fine old time here. Zane sports a bald pate and round face, bearing such an uncanny resemblance to Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now that you expect him to whisper, "The horror…the horror." Rathbone, a veteran of the Twilight series who has the perfect last name for a screen villain, camps it up unmercifully and entertainingly, wearing lavish eyeliner to signal that his character is up to no good.

The cast also includes the Bionic Woman, Lindsay Wagner, and everyone's favorite replicant, Rutger Hauer, as Samson's parents. The veteran performers do their best with such silly moments as when Samson, sounding like a college student who's just returned from backpacking in Europe, tells his folks, "I met a girl!" Needless to say, they're not exactly thrilled when he goes on to inform them that the object of his desire, Taren (Frances Sholto-Douglas), is a Philistine.

Then there's Delilah. Like her co-star, Caitlin Leahy has the physical attributes for the role, but she lacks the exotic allure to make us believe that she could persuade Samson to tell her what he had for lunch, let alone the secret to his God-given strength.

The familiar story normally provides the opportunity for spectacular set pieces, including Samson's battles with the lion and hordes of Philistines and the climactic tearing down of the temple columns. Director Bruce Macdonald squanders all of these opportunities, staging the cheesy, CGI-laden sequences with a visual clumsiness more suitable for a direct-to-video bargain bin than theatrical consumption. And while some aspects of the production and costume design pass muster, the fake beards on display wouldn't cut it on a department store Santa.

Neither impressive enough to prove inspiring or campy enough to be entertaining, Samson is as underwhelming as its title character if he went bald. That doesn't prevent it from teasing a sequel in the final moments. Here's a hint: think of an underdog armed with a slingshot.

Production companies: Pure Flix Productions, Boomtown Films
Distributor: Pure Flix Entertainment
Cast: Taylor James, Billy Zane, Lindsay Wagner, Caitlin Leahy, Rutger Hauer, Jackson Rathbone, Brandon Auret, France Sholto-Douglas, Greg Kriek
Director: Bruce Macdonald
Screenwriters: Jason Baumgardner, Galen Gilbert, Timothy Ratajczak, Zach Smith
Producers: David A.R. White, Michael Scott, Elizabeth Travis, Alysoun Wolfe, Vlokkie Gordon, Bruce MacDonald, Craig Jones, Brittany Yost
Directors of photography: Trevor Michael Brown, Brian Shanley
Production designer: Mitchell Crisp
Editors: Tim Goodwin, Vance Null, Gabriel Sabloff
Costume designer: Dihantus Engelbrecht
Composer: Will Musser

Rated PG-13, 110 minutes

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