If you’ve ever wondered what a guy slaying legions of Philistines might look like, “Samson” shows you. And if you’ve ever wondered why there are no “real” Philistines left — not just the metaphoric kind — here’s a movie that answers that.
If you’ve ever been curious about what being “anointed with oil” might consist of, “Samson” has you covered.
Setting fire to fields of grain by tying torches to the tails of wolves or foxes? That’s a little trickier. And if you’ve pondered the idea that the Hebrew Hercules might have had dimples and the worst fake beard this side of “Gettysburg,” this not-exactly-epic of Biblical proportions might be the stuff of your nightmares.
“Samson” hides its threadbare budget with decent production design, period-rough costumes and rough-and-tumble action. It gives away the game in the casting, though.
My first thought on hearing about this was, “Did they have the guts to hire Jason Momoa? Now THAT’S a Samson.” The brawny tough guy with a winking wit did all sorts of B and C movies before landing the role of AquaMan. And killing in it.
Instead, we’re given Taylor James, who plays one of AquaMan’s fellow Atlanteans in “Justice League,” a beefy, dimply and generally uncharismatic hunk who can’t light up a humorless, tragic and heroic chapter of the Old Testament.
And then there’s Caitlin Leahy, who might have the dark, exotic good looks of the Original Femme Fatale, Delilah, the would-be queen who lures The Hebrew Hammer to his doom. “Feminine wiles” may be instinctual, but “beguiling” takes acting, and she’s as bland as the leading man.
They’re not alone. Watch the fight scenes, where Philistines line up — literally staring at the ground to hit their marks — for slaughter. Crowd scenes? The extras can’t agree on a sight-line they’re supposed to focus on.
And let’s not get into that non-kosher ham Billy Zane as King Balek, eye-linered Jackson Rathbone as his son, the sadistic Prince Rallah, and the world-weary Lindsay Wagner (“The Bionic Woman”) and Rutger Hauer as Samson’s long-suffering parents. Every performance puts the “p” in “perfunctory.”
In ancient Judah, or Israel, Samson is God’s “chosen one,” defender of the faith and The Tribe of Dan’s choice to be the Hebrew judge, leader of his people.
The Hebrews are under the thumb of the Philistines. And while Samson acknowledges his mission and keeps the faith by refusing wine, not touching the dead and not cutting his hair (Grand Funk Railroad @1974 is the coiffure of choice), he’s too busy swiping from the powers that be and making eyes at comely Philistine women.
Of course, his hand is forced, even though all he wants to do is wed the enchanting Taren (Frances Sholto-Douglas), history’s first known case of “shiksa appeal.”
Next thing you know, he’s smiting Philistines left and right, suffering tragedies, torturing and torching wildlife and growing this godawful fake beard.
All in a slow-motion stroll towards his “destiny.”
The script plays around with the ancient world’s mania for riddles — “At night I come without being called. By day I am lost without being stolen.”
What is “a star,” Alex Trebek!
The bad guys fret because “The Hebrew God is within him,” so it doesn’t matter that the King (Zane) tells his son, that “You must see gods for what they are, symbols — means of control.” When Samson is buried under a pile of Philistines in history’s first rugby scrum, you know he’s going to Popeye his way out of it.
It wouldn’t have been sacrilege to take a lighter tone with this. Samson’s head-butting/chop socky brawls are bloody and glum, but could have been violently amusing. The guy is unbeatable, and cocky. Think Disney’s “Hercules,” or even Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast.” That wouldn’t have demeaned the character in the least.
He’s a big, goofy hunk of meat who comes to feel the weight of the world, and weight of a palace, upon him. Funnier earlier scenes with his pilfering brother (Greg Kriek, under a dreadful wig and later awful beard) should have been played funnier, making the hero’s journey Shakespearean.
It’s a visually and dramatically flat picture in which the co-directors just check off the touchstones in Samson’s storied career, lurching forward, parking him in reasonably rustic settings with tunics and smocks and sometimes shirtless. There’s little character arc, and even less story arc.
It’s all enough to make you miss Victor Mature and Heddy Lamarr and a Cecil B. DeMille remake.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and battle sequences
Running time: 1:50