The Body

             Underneath the cheesy dialogue and scenery chomping efforts of
     some of the supporting cast, there's a very provocative premise in
THE BODY, adapted by writer-director Jonas McCord from the novel by
     Richard Ben Sapir. Israeli archeologist Sharon (Olivia Williams) is called
     to an ancient tomb discovered in the backyard of a shop owned by a
     Palestinian. There, she makes the astonishing discovery that it contains
     crucified remains dating to around 32 A.D. Soon the Vatican, as well as
     the Mossad and a rogue band of Palestinians are all vying to gain control
     of the skeleton. Of course, the intriguing question that hovers over the
     proceedings like the proverbial elephant in the living room is the identity
     of the man in question. Romans used crucifixion on the lower classes
     and the bodies were almost always burned later. There was, of course,
     one figure whose story is told in a book called the Bible ...

THE BODYThe Body that of Jesus? A fellow archeologist named
     Dr. Lavelle (Derek Jacobi), who happens to be a priest, believes it is,
     and that sparks a crisis of faith for him. Enter Jesuit priest Father
     Matthew Gutierrez (Antonio Banderas). Assigned by Vatican bigwig
     Cardinal Pesci (John Wood), Fr. Gutierrez arrives in Jerusalem
     to investigate the matter. Never mind that he's not a historian or
     even a real archeologist. He's the man selected because of an
     essay he wrote about Jesus being his best friend. (I'm not kidding!)
     Gutierrez has perhaps the most intriguing curriculum vitae of any
     religious in films since Whoopi Goldberg's lounge singer donned a
     habit in

             You see, Matt (as he prefers to be called) was a combat soldier
     who moved into military intelligence before taking his vows. There's a
     vague suggestion that he has seen or done something horrible, but
     like most things in this film, whatever it was is left unexplained. So
     armed with a Vatican imprimatur, he arrives in the Middle East and
     is soon sparring with Sharon.

             There is obviously meant to be a sense of sexual tension between
     the pair, the attractive widow (with two children) and the handsome
     cleric. But the ludicrous dialogue and the attempts to cart religious
     differences into the mix not to mention the lack of chemistry between
     the two leads end up denuding the proceedings.

             Both of the primary actors attempt to infuse their characters
     with dignity and a modicum of truth, but even Ms. Williams cannot
     contain her bemusement in an early scene with Derek Jacobi (who
     here over-emotes in the worst possible manner). While Jacobi
     intones pompously, an inappropriate smirk eventually creeps over
     the actress' face. She has better luck with Banderas who, while just
     as serious, at least underplays some of his scenes. (He should;
     this role reportedly fetched him $12 million.)

             The complicated religious differences of the region are sketched
     in by the stereotypical supporting players. The Vatican and its denizens
     also do not come off well, either. Only the always dependable Jason
     Flemyng attempts to inject a sense of fun into the overly serious
     subject matter as an Irish priest who acts as a sort of concierge
     and sounding board for Matt.

             McCord's script contains more than its share of unintentionally
     humorous moments, but he also seems to be skirting around serious
     theological questions. When everything starts to point to the fact that
     the skeleton found might indeed be that of Jesus, the film makes an
     attempt to confront the repercussions to world religion. (That it only
     addresses how the matter would affect Catholics is another of its
     shortcomings). The expert cinematography of master d.p. Vilmos
     Zsigmond at least gives the viewer interesting compositions and
     a travelogue look at the Middle East. Other than that,
     posits a truly fascinating and thought-provoking idea and then wraps
     it in absurdity.

                             Rating:               D
                             MPAA Rating:       PG-13 (violence, thematic elements)
                             Running time:      108 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.