Kirk Michael reviews ‘The Risen’

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One always roots for the Romans – in any film they bring law, organization and always-chic claret-caped costumes. In “Risen,” set in A.D. 33 Jerusalem, they quickly prove themselves efficient at taking down crucifixes, wielding wrenches like a NASCAR pit crew and tossing heretics into open graves like so many spent tires.

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes, who’s apparently spent the 20 years since “Shakespeare in Love” lifting weights in anonymity) is a soldier who dodges rebel arrows with a twitch of his neck. After a victory over the rabble, the bloodied centurion is called back to base and fusses to Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), “I am yet still sticky with filth.” Pilate explains Clavius’s heathen-killing abroad is on temporary hold and he must now oversee the crucifixion and burial of the Nazarene Yeshua (Cliff Curtis), a powerful prophet better known by another name these days.

Clavius does a fine job of seeing Yeshua crucified but – spoiler alert – he doesn’t stay buried. We are, however, left with the sobering thought that, if the Romans had posted a more thoroughgoing guard at Christ’s tomb, we might still be under the rule of Caesar.

To right his error, Clavius combs Jerusalem with a callow comrade, Lucius (Tom Felton). We know the future of Western civilization hinges upon their mission but, in the moment, the proceedings feel like a fair-to-middling episode of “Law & Order: Very Special Victims Unit.” The partners search high and low for the corpse of Yeshua – or the next best available bearded body with the marks of crucifixion. Happily for them, and for Pilate, there is no shortage of rotting carcasses.

The most enjoyable passages of the film are Clavius’s bad cop interviews with witnesses from the cult of Yeshua, who is succinctly described as the “crazy, poor, dead Jew.” While he’s grilling Mary Magdalene – “spare me the zealot babble!” – there is godlight pouring down from the window like an interrogation lamp.

Sadly, “Risen” director Kevin Reynolds (one word: “Waterworld”) switches the mood from adequate police procedural to beatific road picture. After seeing a miracle or two, Clavius turns rogue, helping the proto-Christians escape the Romans.

The cohort arrive at a great lake, where their adventures begin to resemble a rowdy Sigma Nu camping trip. After the miracle of the fishes, it feels like Bartholomew (Stephen Hagan) is perhaps blissed out on the finest Galilean hash rather than that fresh Judean air.

The brothers have a lot of fun until someone calls out, “Yeshua is gone!” As he leaves the earthly plane we’re left with a slightly empty feeling – for all of his healing powers he never took care of the weeping cut cleaving Clavius’s lips for the entire film.

“Risen” is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated PG-13. Running time 1:47. Visit www.cinemawest.com.

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