Directed by the same Jim Carroll who helmed the 2006 stinker Evil Behind You (1.8 stars out of 10 on IMDb), Assassin 33 A.D. is just like The Passion of the Christ — if that movie had been created by Mel Brooks instead of Mel Gibson.
That’s not to say that it’s a comedy. It isn’t. Most of the script is shot through with as much occasionally pious earnestness as most of us can stand. But there are many hilarious moments, 90 percent of them inadvertent.
The basic storyline is this: Jesus must be prevented from dying a quick death at the hands of time-traveling, machine-gun-toting 21st-century Muslims, who desire “a world without filthy Christian scum.” Why must the Savior be saved if he’s slated to die anyway? Easy: So he can be properly crucified. I’m not kidding. Only if Christ dies a drawn-out, miserable death on the cross, and then resurrects, people can be sure that he’s The One and the Bible is true — thus kicking off Christianity’s virtual conquest of the world.
Luckily, the Muslim gang isn’t smart enough to build its own time machine, which is where our heroes come in: four brilliant young U.S. scientists who at first don’t understand who they’re working for. Once they figure out their Islamic employer’s evil intentions, they jump back and forth between the present and the past like regular Marty McFlys, all in a desperate attempt to keep Christ from getting gunned down.
This would be absolute gold in the hands of, say, Mike Judge, or Trey Parker and Matt Stone, or Jordan Peele. With Carroll in the writer’s and director’s chair, it’s merely pyrite. The special effects have all the sophistication of a mid-seventies Star Trek episode. I laughed out loud during a scene where a tremor rocks the ground around Jesus’s tomb; the effect was apparently achieved by jiggling the camera while the two extras playing the Roman sentinels buckle their knees and flail their arms.
More mirth: Jesus is remarkably white for a Palestinian Jew, and he speaks perfect English with his third-millennium visitors — six or seven centuries before that language even existed. Who says miracles aren’t real?
Less funny is the fact that the only main character who doesn’t speak standard English is a good-guy scientist who happens to be the only black man on the team. For comic effect, Carroll has him talking high-pitched street jive the entire time, even when he meets Jesus, including exclamations like “You nasty!” and “Oh snap!” Oof.
There are redeeming qualities. Carroll keeps the action moving at a good pace, and although the final outcome is as predictable as a superspreader event at a freshly reopened church, I was never bored. (Boredom was my constant state during The Passion of the Christ; how Gibson squeezed almost half a billion dollars in personal income from that two-hour snooze-fest is beyond me.)
Despite all its goofiness — no, because of it — Assassin 33 A.D. succeeds as entertainment. I’ll gladly give it that.
As a vehicle for Christian theology, the movie is just as baffling as the faith’s standard myths. Why couldn’t God, who is omniscient and all-powerful, smite the Muslim assassins, to safeguard His son’s legacy and His own perfect plan? Or just not let the evildoers be born in the first place?
Why wouldn’t the armed goons choose to travel to the year one to eliminate their target? I mean, when Jesus was an infant, he didn’t yet have much of a following, and wasn’t being hunted by Roman soldiers likely to complicate matters for the killers.
What does it say about the battle between science and religion that young researchers invented the time machine that ended up being the instrument that saved Christ from the hitmen? Isn’t that a little off-target for a Christian movie?
What kind of Supersmart Supreme Being would reject the incredible opportunity of having Jesus murdered with guns, the discharging of which would’ve been the height of absolute magic to first-century witnesses? Imagine how much more miraculous the Jesus faith would seem if archeologists found the bullet fragments that killed Christ, buried in a Golgotha layer of soil that dates to 2,000 years ago! (I confess it also tickles my funny bone to visualize a world where Christians worship a bullet instead of a cross.)
For much of the movie, I kept thinking that maybe Carroll missed his target audience. Had he turned his fatuous flick into an outright blasphemous comedy, Assassin 33 A.D., with a little more polish, could’ve been The Life of Brian of our times. Then, it would’ve stood out as deliberately riotous, rather than accidentally so. Even the cheesy effects would’ve been part of the film’s fun, rather than a mild embarrassment.
As it is, Carroll’s picture is, in the words of a Movie Nation reviewer, “fiercely stupid.” But it’s not without its charms. If you can can get over the racist undertones, and you were to watch it with a few snarky, smart-mouthed friends, I can just about guarantee you’ll have a good time savaging it.