Sandy Kenyon reviews remake of 1959 classic 'Ben-Hur'

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The movie "Ben-Hur" is looking for some divine intervention.

The $100 million remake of the historical action epic is getting weak reviews, and tracking to debut with just $10 to $15 million.

The producers are rallying Christian and faith-based audiences to turn out, hoping to boost that total to $20 million, and give it a shot at topping "Suicide Squad" for first place at the box office this weekend.

If any story deserves to be called timeless, it is the fictional tale of "Ben-Hur," which dates from before movies were invented. The biggest question to be answered today is "why film it again?"

The story of "Ben-Hur" dates from 1880, and the first epic based on it came before movies learned to talk. Special effects have improved a lot since then.

However, while the final chariot race is indeed spectacular, the story is showing signs of age, and changes to the ending will not please fans of the 1959 version. That movie starred Charlton Heston and won an astounding 11 Oscars.

Truth be told, the 1959 version is quite long. So people will be glad that the new film clocks in more than an hour shorter, but this is a big story that requires big stars to match the spectacle.

Jack Huston just doesn't have enough charisma to play this iconic role.

Judah Ben-Hur is a rich, Jewish prince raised alongside his adopted brother, Messala, but they part as young men and become adversaries when Messala becomes a Roman soldier occupying Jerusalem.

Messala causes Ben-Hur to be enslaved for five years, and his escape after an attack at sea is the first place the film comes alive.

Yet, no one here has enough power to hold a close-up until Morgan Freeman shows up as a sporting man, willing to wager on a chariot race. Ben-Hur races Messala to resolve their differences.

The finale is exciting especially on a big screen, but there's a lot of movie to sit through before this pay-off. It serves to defuse any excitement that's been generated.

This film doesn't quite deserve some of the worst reviews of the summer. There's just no good reason to re-make this one -- which is perhaps why it is being released at the end of the summer blockbuster season. null
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