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Solomon & Sheba

Filmed in Ouarzazate, Morocco, by Dino De Laurentiis Communications. Producers, Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis; director, Robert M. Young; writer, Ronni Kern; There's not much believable drama and not much imaginative expansion of the Old Testament in Ronni Kern's flat account about the Queen of Sheba meeting with King Solomon of Jerusalem over a trade deal. Some sustained energy, a dab of urgency and more fertile storytelling would help plump up the original biblical story; here, it's bland leading the bland.

With:
Cast: Halle Berry, Jimmy Smits, Nicolas Grace, Kenneth Colley, Ruben Santiago Hudson, David John Pope, Chapman Roberts, Hugh Quarshie, Nadia Sawalha, Miquel Brown.

Filmed in Ouarzazate, Morocco, by Dino De Laurentiis Communications. Producers, Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis; director, Robert M. Young; writer, Ronni Kern; There’s not much believable drama and not much imaginative expansion of the Old Testament in Ronni Kern’s flat account about the Queen of Sheba meeting with King Solomon of Jerusalem over a trade deal. Some sustained energy, a dab of urgency and more fertile storytelling would help plump up the original biblical story; here, it’s bland leading the bland.

Scripter Kern creates no pizazz after the queen, Nikaule (Halle Berry), vengefully kills her husband after a two-minute marriage (and a promising premise) and makes herself ruler of Sheba. Crossing the desert in a cut-rate caravan to reach King Solomon in Jerusalem, Nikaule hopes to nail Israel’s inroads into Sheba’s frankincense business, Sheba’s main income source.

Nikaule brings gifts to Solomon (Jimmy Smits) and a promise of gold from Ophir, which she and her aides think they’ve just discovered on their trek across the sands. Although shipmen had already been bringing him gold from Ophir , Solomon acts surprised.

Jeroboam (Nicolas Grace), no longer a mighty man of valor per the Scriptures, is a middle-aged villain after Solomon’s throne.

The simplistic action and on-the-sleeve characterizations under Young’s routine direction emphasize the silliness of the project; the glories of 10 th-century B.C. Jerusalem seem far, far away.

As for the interjected “love scenes” between Solomon and Nikaule, they are standard bare shoulder-and-sheets writhing as he murmurs words from the Song with no indication of its poetic majesty.

Smits looks stricken as the fuzzily conceived King Solomon, and Kern’s banal dialogue and predictable reactions don’t give the actor a chance. Berry works hard at Nikaule, but the earnest acting doesn’t make much of a dent. Of course, it’s not fair when she has such lines as, “I understand your need for ritual, but I don’t want to be your sacrificial lamb.”

Acting from others is mostly blatant, and Beppe Maccari’s lensing, which includes a camera shadow on Smits back, is only so-so. Production looks tired, and the music by David Kitay proves lackluster. As for location shooting in Morocco, Nikaule’s Sheba quarters are acceptable, Solomon’s palace is blah, long shot of Jerusalem is impressive; otherwise, there are lots of dunes.

Disappointing presentation is described as the “centerpiece program” for Discovery’s Black History Month. A second Bible story, “Slave of Dreams,” is slated for the summer.

King Vidor’s 1959 $ 6 million-plus spectacle concerning the same story and starring Yul Brynner and Gina Lollobrigida wasn’t any more biblical, but it sure was entertaining. (It was filmed under duress because the original Solomon, Tyrone Power, died during the filming in Spain.)

Solomon & Sheba

Production: Showtime, Sun. Feb. 26, 8 p.m.

Crew: Camera, Beppe Maccari; editor, Arthur Coburn; production designer, Pier Luigi Basile; art director, Marco Trentini; costume designer, Gabriella Pescucci; sound, Michael Kharat; music, David Kitay. 120 MIN.

With: Cast: Halle Berry, Jimmy Smits, Nicolas Grace, Kenneth Colley, Ruben Santiago Hudson, David John Pope, Chapman Roberts, Hugh Quarshie, Nadia Sawalha, Miquel Brown.

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