Faith-based films, as a general rule, are big on emotion and message but lack risk and edge. They “preach to the choir” and play it safe, serving up comfort food for the faithful.
But boy, “Assassin 33 A.D.” doesn’t lack for ambition. By turns prophetic and pious, pistol-packing and profane, it is the nuttiest “Jesus movie” since “Life of Brian.”
And remember, I reviewed the “gay Jesus” satire from Brazil, “The First Temptation of Christ.”
It’s about time travel, commandos armed to the teeth going back to “prove” Jesus wasn’t God, and maybe mow-down a bunch of Roman soldiers and disciples in the process.
All the gunplay and bloodshed? Oh yeah, it was filmed in Texas by the writer-director of “Evil Behind You.” Very Texas.
And then one of the scientists (Lamar Usher) who goes back to STOP the commandos runs into Jesus (Jason Castro) in the Garden of Gesthemene. Simon the scientist may be an Ivy League physicist, but he still speaks in the street-slang that screams “urban stereotype” to generations of white screenwriters.
Simon wants to warn Jesus, who being the Son of God, picks up on English 1100 years before it exists.
“I’m from the future. And I’ve seen your movie. Got it on bootleg. Didn’t finish it, though.”
“They mess you up pretty bad…But don’t get bummed out!”
Jesus isn’t bummed, and he doesn’t want this not-the-Apostle-Simon to worry.
“I know what is going to happen.”
“And if you’d finished my movie, you’d know, too!”
Eric Idle couldn’t have written a better crucifixion joke. And he tried. With Our Lord John Cleese as my witness, if I hear a funnier exchange in a movie this year I’ll be tickled indeed.
“Assassin 33 A.D.” has moments of camp like that, and a lot of just bad writing and middling acting to go with its decent production values, heaping helpings of Islamophobia and obscene levels of violence.
Morgan Roberts plays Ram Goldstein, who leads a research team that includes Simon, Amy (Isla Levine) and Felix (Cesar D’ La Torre). They’re scrambling to invent “matter transference.” They want to build the first “Star Trek” transporter for their Arabic boss (Gerardo Davila).
But what does Ahmed want this for? Ram stumbles across the answer, and that runs him afoul of Ahmed’s new ex-military head of security. We’ve seen Brandt (Donny Boaz) survive a car wreck and curse (Ok, not literally “curse”) God for “taking my family from me!” Heidi Montag plays his wife.
Brandt is all too quick to help Ahmed torture Ram when he discovers what they’ve actually invented is a time machine, which Ram wants to keep out of the hands of Ahmed and his terrorist minions.
The film’s first hilarious lines are Brandt assuring everyone that “no one has to get hurt” AFTER we’ve seen him beating the Hell out of Ram.
Ahmed barks, “Keep him comfortable until I return,” again — AFTER the beating — and after we’ve seen Ram’s parents gunned down in front of him as part of “being persuasive.”
Yeah it’s a fiercely stupid movie. They should have stuck to comedy, but that’s a hard sell to the devoted American Christian film audience, especially with Easter coming up.
The bad guys go to the past to mess up the Arrest, Crucifixion and Resurrection, “correcting the greatest deception of All Time — dismantling Christianity!”
Ahmed hates those “Christian scum.” He does. But when he grabs fruit off a vendor’s table in The Holy Land, he’s made his biggest mistake.
“It’s a tomato! So what?”
So, tomatoes wouldn’t be imported to the Old World until 1500+ years later, you ahistorical scum!
There’s a little biting banter between the atheist scientist Ram and his devoutly Christian colleague/girlfriend Amy.
“Please stop them from killing JESUS!”
“If Jesus is God, he can take care of himself!”
Writer-director Jim Carroll tries to wrap this in “faith-being-tested” and “non-believers converted” homilies. Characters also struggle, as such characters do, to explain the twisty, turny time-lines of time-travel.
But none of that’s as easy as just throwing in another shootout, messing up the timeline further as all these dead people are going to alter ancient history, and future history.
A few effects impress, the gunplay — not so much. The moral leaps many characters make are as risible as the logical leaps forced into the plot.
“Assassin 33 A.D.” may not find its intended audience, and if it does they may not be as gobsmacked at the picture’s goofiness as sci-fi fans who have seen well-made time-travel done on a budget — “Primer,” “Timecrimes,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” etc.
But then again, maybe sci-fi fans are a better audience for this so-bad-its-funny trip back to Golgotha.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and thematic elements.
Cast: Morgan Roberts, Isla Levine, Lamar Usher, Gerardo Davila, Jason Castro, and Heidi Montag
Credits: Written and directed by Jim Carroll. A Fireside release.
Running time: 1:49