by David Cornelius
Admit it: When you first heard the title “One Night with the King,” you, too, thought it just might be an Elvis movie.Alas, “One Night with the King” is instead a lavish adaptation of “Hadassah: One Night with the King,” the recent novel by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen that in turn is a novelized retelling of the Old Testament’s Book of Esther. (Long story short: young Hadassah takes the name Esther to hide her Jewishness, becomes queen, discovers a plot to kill all Jews, reveals herself to her husband to be a Jew, saves a people.) Scripted by Stephan Blinn (“The Omega Code”) and directed by Michael O. Sajbel (“Reluctant Prophet”), “One Night” marks the seventh movie retelling of the Esther story (most memorably a 1960 production starring Joan Collins, and most recently in 2000 as an animated “Veggie Tales” video).
"All pomp, no circumstance."
The film is an attempt to return to the lavishness of the classic Biblical epics of the 1950s and 60s, and visually, it succeeds. Filmed mainly at a temple in Rajasthan, India (with digital backgrounds - notably two massive waterfalls - enhancing the scenery), the movie is loaded with lush set design and gorgeous costuming, a notable achievement considering its comparably low budget. To seal the deal, the filmmakers hauled in Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif for marquee value and a sort of instant class; never mind that O’Toole only appears for one quick scene (and looks drunk throughout), and Sharif is shoved aside in a secondary role.
All of this is the only upside to what is ultimately a sloppy, inept, often laughable production. The film is an exercise in overblown and overplayed, with Sajbel tossing in clumsy, melodramatic slo-mo in too many scenes, punctuating each Big Moment with ridiculous attempts to duplicate the grandeur of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. (Esther’s big time entrance into the palace is an obvious rip-off of Aragorn’s similar door-busting in “The Two Towers;” the editing team - Blinn among them - loves the shot so much that we get it from four separate angles, like it’s a stunt in a Jackie Chan flick.) J.A.C. Redford’s ridiculously exaggerated musical score only enhances Sajbel’s every wrong move, with clichéd pounding brass highlighting the director’s every hackneyed move.
Worse still is the writing. Blinn’s dialogue struggles to find a balance between Biblical (read: stuffy, pompous, “classy”) and everyday (casual, modern). The idea is to update the text without losing its King James Version feel. The result, however, is lumbering and ludicrous, leaving the performers to struggle with lines like, “Wilt thou sit there all day, m’lord?” The experienced members of the cast (also including John Noble and John Rhys-Davies) manage to make these spurts of idiocy work decently enough, but the main players - newcomer Tiffany Dupont as Hadassah/Esther, former Brit pop star Luke Goss as King Xerxes, and James Callis of “Battlestar Galactica” as the weaselly Haman - are so terrible that their fumbled line readings only enhance the script’s awfulness.
Indeed, Dupont delivers a performance so notably awful that one wonders why she was cast in the first place. I’m not sure what her accent was supposed to be, because it changes repeatedly throughout the film, and often throughout the same sentence. Goss, meanwhile, plays his role as if channeling Fabio himself (I Can’t Believe It’s Not Xerxes!), but with the added bonus of sometimes sounding like a deranged Muppet. As for Callis, well, his every pseudo-serious utterance is worth a giggle or four.
But back to the screenplay. Blinn gets lost in his own stuffiness, bringing the story to a screeching halt over and over again with attempted political intrigue that trips over itself to add a sinister flavor to the proceedings. Blinn’s biggest mistake is in trying to beef up the tale by adding extraneous flights of fancy to a story that does not need any. Consider a dismal plot point in which Hadassah is given a necklace that, when held near candlelight, sends visions of dozens of Stars of David dancing around the room - but only a true believer can see them. Here is a writer that thinks the Old Testament needs a rewrite to punch up a few key scenes.
It’s a shame to see “One Night” fail so miserably, because as a scrappy little movie reaching for greatness, you want to root for it. But there’s just nothing here that deserves a cheer, unless that cheer is of the Bronx variety. “One Night with the King” misses every opportunity to fill the viewer with awe and wonder, instead filling us only with the need to point and laugh.(This review has been reprinted with kind permission from DVD Talk and the author, who is me. For details on the DVD release, please visit www.DVDTalk.com.)
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11803&reviewer=392
originally posted: 02/14/07 11:21:08