Movie Review: Samson.
A few bright moments can’t keep Samson from languishing in the doldrums of budget faith based films.
Think what you will, but I tend to enjoy movies about beefy dudes performing feats of heroism. I haven’t met a Hercules movie that I haven’t been at least mildly entertained by, and anything Sword and Sorcery generally gets my approval. I knew that Samson was going to be more than a little heavy on the piety, but I hoped it would have enough action to entertain a general audience. After having seen the Biblical epic of Samson, I have to say that most viewers are going to be disappointed by the lack of excitement, uneven acting, and meandering plot.
Samson is favored by God and gifted with tremendous strength, but he chafes at being the chosen hero of his people. Unfortunately, his people really need a hero as the Israelites are currently occupied by their enemies and oppressed by the petulant young prince of the Philistines, Rallah. When Rallah learns of Samson’s might and popularity, he draws him out by attacking his loved ones. Unable to cope with his strength, the Philistines hatch a plot to use the lovely Delilah to undo the romance-prone hero.
The first part of Samson feels like its heavily inspired by Sam Raimi‘s jocular Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Samson is personable and a tad goofy thanks to a game performance by Taylor James, much like Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules, and Samson’s brother Caleb is suspiciously similar in appearance and behavior to Herc’s buddy Iolaus. I enjoyed this dynamic. We first meet the two as they trade riddles while nonchalantly robbing the Philistines of the grain they have extorted from the Hebrews. When caught, a silly chase ensues where they basically pants a rival priest. Samson stops to flirt and Caleb has to dress as a woman to escape. It’s lighthearted and breezy fun. If only it had continued.
Punch up the Source Material.
After a promising start, Samson bogs down into a self-serious tale of love, revenge and piety. The problem is that the Samson story is not a very good story. Samson’s adventures feel like an ad-hoc assemblage of events with no real through-line. His first marriage, his slaying of the Philistine army, his tussle with a lion, and his ill-fated romance with Delilah don’t evolve from each other. They’re just random stuff that people who hated the Philistines would have enjoyed hearing about, and barely need to be about the same guy.
The movie tries to provide connective tissue to this skeleton by making up Rallah, the prickly prince of Philistia who is behind every event. This may have worked if: A) they had streamlined the rest of the story instead of keeping every little detail, and B) Jackson Rathbone was not utterly rubbish as Rallah. Rathbone is a hokey baddie who chews the scenery and grins devilishly at the camera every chance he gets. His character is the type of whiny would-be king played with much better result by Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator. A lousy archetype played by a terrible actor adds up to a bad day at the cinema. It’s such a shame since Billy Zane plays Rallah’s father, the king, and turns in a remarkably regal and restrained performance…except for the silly Burger King crown they make him wear.
Riddle Me This?
Speaking of story problems and awful elements: the riddle contest that starts Samson on his Philistine murdering ways is horrendous. In the Bible it’s horrendous, and in 2018 it’s even worse. It’s not even a dang riddle. It’s essentially Bilbo asking “what’s in my pocket?” But instead of hours of good riddles devolving into a desperation play, Samson leads with this gem. We know he knows better riddles, he was spouting them off at
Iolaus Caleb during the first act! It winds up making him look like a cretin when previously he had been cocky and charming.
Slay or Get Off the Pot!
The final nail in the coffin for Samson is that the movie is boring. There are some solid action sequences, though they really should have shelled out for a better choreographer and perhaps some opponents with MMA experience to sell the fights. There’s just not enough sustaining excitement since the recurring plot point of Samson ditching his heroic responsibility constantly taps the breaks. It’s not until the final twenty minutes that you really get the chemical reaction of action plus a hero who’s willing to be doing the action.
I know the moral journey of Samson learning to rely on God is what 90% of the intended audience wants, but anyone not going right from the theater to Bible study is going to be bored silly. It was a bad idea for Hollywood to inject epic action into the story of Noah or Exodus, but Samson really needs that injection badly. Instead we get a middling movie with a disjointed plot and wildly uneven acting. It’s not so bad that I wanted to put out my eyes with red hot pokers…but I did entertain the idea of pulling down the movie theater on top of myself occasionally.