Despite the limitations of their obviously limited budget, the makers of “Samson” strive mightily to provide the scope and sweep of an Old Hollywood biblical epic while offering their take on the classic tale about a mighty hero who falls from grace after a tonsorial malfunction. Unfortunately, there’s nothing miraculous about this latest product from Pure Flix Entertainment, an outfit that’s recently scored considerably greater success with such modern-day faith-based fare as “Woodlawn,” “God’s Not Dead” and “The Case for Christ.” Even if you’re willing to forgive the laughably fake beards, the unconvincing computer-generated imagery, and a man-versus-lion skirmish that might have embarrassed Ed Wood, the overall clunkiness of this enterprise may tempt you to shout rude things at the screen.
In the title role, British-born beefcake Taylor James certainly looks buff enough to pass muster as a divinely enhanced brawler, most notably when Samson lays waste to scores of Philistine soldiers while armed only with the jawbone of an ass. (Here and elsewhere, James resembles nothing so much as a living and breathing version of a Frank Frazetta illustration.) And he takes full advantage of a few opportunities to crack wise while Samson and his kid brother, Caleb (Greg Kriek), misbehave like a couple of Old Testament bros.
Throughout most of the movie, however, James is glumly serious, if not downright sullen, as Samson grapples with the challenge of being a Chosen One charged with protecting his fellow Israelites against their Philistine oppressors. Truth to tell, Samson would rather be just a regular dude, free to follow his heart and marry Taren (Frances Sholto-Douglas), a Philistine beauty. But his parents (Rutger Hauer, Lindsay Wagner) insist that they, and God, know what’s best for him: He must fulfill his destiny as a holy warrior because, well, with great power comes great responsibility. And heaven knows that, for as long as he doesn’t cut his hair, Samson is pretty doggone powerful. Just ask those Philistine soldiers who were at the wrong end of that jawbone.
Directed by Bruce Macdonald from a screenplay credited to Jason Baumgardner, Galen Gilbert, Timothy Ratajczak and Zach Smith, “Samson” feels like a long movie that’s been cut down from a much longer one, or maybe even a miniseries. The continuity is ragged, the pacing is bumpy — and on more than one occasion, everything seems to be building up to a commercial break.
If the campiness quotient were a bit higher, “Samson” might have compensated for its flaws by qualifying as a guilty pleasure. Alas, Caitlin Leahy comes across as too sincere to be sultry as Delilah, the scissors-wielding vixen who diminishes the hirsute Israelite. Billy Zane, who’s usually good for some robust scenery-chewing, dials it down too many notches as King Balek, the Philistine tyrant who refuses to accept Samson’s God, or any other deity, as a superior authority. Only Jackson Rathbone as Rallah, Balek’s effetely ferocious and fatally ambitious son, attempts the sort of extreme overplaying that can give an otherwise stolid biblical epic some nondenominational appeal.