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'Exodus: Gods and Kings' review: Disappointing biblical epic

Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale in a scene

Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale in a scene from "Exodus: Gods and Kings." Credit: AP / Kerry Brown

The end seems nigh for the biblical epic with the release of "Exodus: Gods and Kings," Ridley Scott's attempt to update a creaky genre with state-of-the-art effects and a modernized interpretation of events. Actually, "Exodus" turns out to be part of a time-honored tradition: the old-fashioned, super-spectacular Hollywood bomb.

Filled with swashbuckling action, a cast of screaming thousands, a cacophony of regional accents and some of the campiest acting outside a John Waters film, "Exodus" is the kind of hokey disaster that could have been made 60 years ago. At a recent screening, titters broke out the moment John Turturro appeared as the pharaoh Seti, wearing cat's-eye makeup and speaking the king's English by way of Queens.

Soon after came the sight of Joel Edgerton, as Ramses, showing off his oiled pectorals and canoodling with a cobra like Nastassja Kinski. Ben Mendelsohn plays the Egyptian viceroy Hegep as a mincing homosexual -- a trope at least as old as "Spartacus" -- with an exaggerated pout and elevator eyes. Ben Kingsley takes a small role as a Jewish elder; Sigourney Weaver, as Moses' adoptive mother, barely speaks at all.

After all this -- we're about 20 minutes in -- it's hard to take anyone seriously. Christian Bale turns Moses into a William Wallace type with clenched teeth, a swift sword and a big public-speaking voice; he makes tender love to Zipporah (Maria Valverde, uttering the potentially classic line, "Proceed"). In the film's oddest and already most controversial twist, God appears to Moses as a snotty British schoolboy (Isaac Andrews). They bicker, mostly about strategy.

That conceit suggests that "Exodus" wants to interpret an old story in a new way, but it ends up sapping the excitement and grandeur from the narrative. Scott's parting of the Red Sea aims for scientific plausibility and ends up becoming an ebb tide -- the water just gradually drains away. It's enough to make you long for Charlton Heston and a green screen.

"Exodus" closes out a year of biblical movies, from "Son of God" to "Noah." This one may have just killed the genre for another 60 years.

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