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 the bland leading the bland.
Scripter Kern creates no pizzazz 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 curtail Israel’s inroads into Sheba’s frankincense business, its 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 that the enterprising Nikaule stumbled onto the gold site.
Jeroboam (Nicolas Grace), no longer a mighty man of valor per the Scriptures, is a middle-aged villain after Solomon’s throne. He tries discrediting Nikaule, who has suddenly gained Solomon’s trust and love, by setting up a bushwhack party for Solomon on the way to Ophir.
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. The wisdom of Solomon, repped here mostly by how he determines the true mother of a baby, isn’t otherwise shown. Even that’s used as a plot trick to settle Jeroboam’s ambitions.
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.
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.