Just because you’re rolling in the chariot doesn’t make you Charlton Heston. That’s a lesson this weightless, instantly disposable remake of the 1959 sword-and-sandal Oscar winner learns the hard way. Taking the worst of it on the chin is star Jack Huston, whose Jewish prince turned galley slave, Judah Ben-Hur, suffers from a distinct lack of personality – he’s like a boulder that someone forgot to chisel into a statue.
The character is supposed to function as a model of suffering, faith and forgiveness, while Jesus himself (here played by Rodrigo Santoro) shows up in a side plot. But Huston’s voice, thick with hoarseness, is a grating bore and he can’t pull off a sense of dawning righteousness. He should be playing villains only.
The familiar elements – betrayal by an oily Roman 'brother' (Toby Kebbell), arena training from a exotic redeemer (Morgan Freeman in dreadlocks and a faint hint of check-cashing) – were all improved upon by Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’, which not only had the benefit of Russell Crowe but that director’s effortless way with huge, near-fascist pageantry. Russia’s Timur Bekmambetov (‘Wanted’), on the other hand, has only a scattershot, computerized aesthetic to draw on. His 15-minute-long climactic chariot race feels like a videogame, shimmering with digital dust and overblown colors.