Back to the Big Book goes TNT for yet another heaping helping of holy, rolling out a fifth period story under the care of the team responsible for the first four: executive producer Gerald Rafshoon and producer Lorenzo Minoli.
Like its dramatic predecessors “Abraham,” “Jacob,” “Joseph” and “Moses,” “Samson and Delilah” is rich in detail and epic in scope but a tad stiff in its execution. Unlike that quartet, however, this latest four-hour, two-night mini holds a surrealistic trump card in the person of Dennis Hopper.
It would be understating the case greatly to say that Hopper, in portraying the fictional, enigmatic Philistine Gen. Tariq, adds a delicious dash of eccentricity to an otherwise uneven and self-important (if visually stirring) stew.
Watching Hopper camp his way through a biblical tale is akin to watching a prehistoric Nike commercial. From “Blue Velvet” … to “Samson and Delilah.” It’s kind of like Joe Pesci strolling from “GoodFellas” into “Hamlet.” The other big name here is Elizabeth Hurley, the Estee Lauder model who portrays devilish Delilah. You might say that she leads with her rouge, wearing so much makeup that her face appears to be in danger of sprouting its own canvas and getting shipped to the Louvre.
Hurley’s acting range is primarily restricted to flirtation and coquettishness, but she evokes them reasonably well and with the assurance of the cover girl she is. Her persona nicely complements Eric Thal’s wandering, conflicted, vocally challenged Samson, a shepherd who happens to be stronger than any man alive but conveys little charisma. When you have arms like tree trunks and the strength of a grizzly, having a personality is just gravy. And besides, it ain’t his social skills that Delilah has fallen for.
The titan whom history recalls most vividly for having one particularly dreadful hair day (thanks to Delilah’s strength-sapping trimming of his locks) kicks an awful lot of butt over the course of the four hours, overpowering bands of armed Philistines with his bare hands, breaking a lion’s neck, snapping a man’s forearm like a twig and always stalking off unsatisfied because he is hopelessly locked in a search for himself.
Perhaps Hopper could provide some personal assistance in that area.
Unfortunately, the action sequences in Allan Scott’s screenplay are surrounded by the sort of interminable lulls that perpetually dog the religious-epic genre, inducing that feeling of, “Wow, this looks so gorgeous. Those costumes are so swell. Why can’t this be more interesting?” Indeed, where “Samson and Delilah” succeeds grandly is in its lush look. Director Nicolas Roeg and cinematographer Raffaele Mertes brilliantly turn their Morocco locations into a sparse paradise, and costume designer Enrico Sabbatini displays a superb collection of threads.
Rafshoon, Minoli and Scott also commendably refrain from layering the production with any particular religious point of view, keeping the production grounded in nonpartisan language.
Rich and captivating in its visual dynamics, “Samson and Delilah” is, for all its tedious interludes, a sensitively wrought production marked with an obvious attention to detail. But unlike cutting Samson’s hair, slicing an hour from this would not have weakened the subject but made it stronger