The Body (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

No, it isn't a Jesse Ventura biopic. It's yet another version of Stigmata and The Passover Plot in the sub-genre of "what would happen if religion's foundations were shown to be demonstrably false?" In this case, they may or may not have found Christ's unresurrected body. 

These facts should give you a pretty good idea of how good the movie is:

The film was not cheaply produced. I'm not sure of the budget, but it was shot handsomely on location in Rome and Jerusalem, features a major movie star (Antonio Banderas), an acknowledged great actor (Derek Jacobi), a brilliant cinematographer (Vilmos Zsigmond), an excellent original score, and some good minor players (Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng).

  • After producing a beautiful theatrical cut in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, they got the film out to 11 screens for a week or two in April, without promotion. So you know the Lion's Gate studio hated it.
  • Their efforts were rewarded appropriately. They saw the box office soar to $33,000. Total. I figure that worked out to something like 9 people per showing! So you know the audiences hated it. (Their IMDb rating of 3.9 confirms it)
  • Rotten Tomatoes reports 14% good reviews, so you know the critics hated it.

I reckon you don't really need to know what I think.

The premise is that an Israeli archeologist unearths a tomb beneath a shop in Jerusalem, and she has good reason to believe that it may be the body of Jesus Christ. She reports her findings to the officials in Israel, and they dutifully pass the findings on to the Vatican. The Vatican sends Father Antonio Banderas, a former Central American guerrilla fighter with no archeological training, to investigate. The more investigating he does, the more he is convinced that it is really Christ.

The story leaks out. This, of course, brings other spiritual and political forces into play. Both the Israelis and Palestinians want to use the information to their advantage. "We'll release the bones to the Vatican if you .....". "We won't tell, if you ....."  Various sects bring other agendas. Some Orthodox sects believe that the dig is simply desecrating a Jewish grave, so they stone Antonio Banderas. Some other people saw "The 13th Warrior", so they stone Antonio Banderas. I think Don Johnson even dropped by to stone Antonio Banderas over the whole Melanie thing. It was actually at the point for a while where Israel was urgently asking the USA for help because they were running out of stones.

And after they found the body of Christ, the people of Corpus Christi, Texas really had to have a heart-to-heart about their town's name.

It was quite amazing that random people kept wandering in and out of the dig, especially given the noted security-consciousness of Israel. At one point Banderas turns to an Israeli official elsewhere in town and says "hey, aren't those the two guys who are supposed to be guarding the dig?", and the official responds with something like "hey, you guys get back to that tomb". And I ain't kidding about this one!

It was also quite amazing that the scientist didn't know science and the priest didn't know theology. She wanted to publish her paper before her lab results were in (imagine her embarrassment if she got the wrong answers) and he wanted to disprove the theory by using conflicting evidence from the Shroud of Turin (which has recently been shown to be a product of the second milennium, not the first) 


Then they threw in some action sequences where the archeologist had to steal the bones from the dig in order to save her children. I'm still not sure why those bad guys wanted the bones, or why they kidnapped the kids, but they got them both. Olivia took the bones and packed them into an athletic bag, like the ones softball players use to carry their gear, and then some random Palestinian bad guy had it, and was running through some ancient ruins with the athletic bag, being pursued by Banderas. There were also about 10,000 Israeli policemen trying to kill the bad guy with automatic weapons, and 10,000 other Israelis trying to kill Banderas with stones. There were a lot of very loud explosions and even some car chases.

I guess you can see what went wrong. Is this intended to be a serious and thoughtful movie about the worldwide religious and political ramifications of finding an unresurrected Christ? That's how it started out, and the first thirty minutes were pretty interesting. But if that's what it is, why are they driving through Jerusalem in a Jeep chase, carrying Christ's bones around in a gym bag? And why are they suggesting an affair between the priest and the archeologist?

The film had a cop-out ending to make Christians happy. Mr Bad Guy blew himself and the bones up, with the grenade he had on his belt loop. Again, I'm not sure why he did that, but it destroyed all the evidence. The Israeli government and the Vatican then made some kind of deal, and they ended up blowing up the dig to build an apartment building on top of it.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1, and a full screen version

  • no meaningful features

BUT - as we see the tomb collapse, revealed by the explosion is an ancient inscription with Christian symbols on it, and the inscription "Lord, please take my son David as you took your own son Jesus". The filmmakers got a little confused here, of course. The tomb had already been dated to exactly 32 A.D. by reliable scientific means. The inscription alone was OK, but the Christian symbol? In the same year Christ died? I ain't no theologian, but I think it probably took a while before they got a working faith going.

Cast notes:

  • By the way, if you are a fan of Sir Jacobi, as I am, you don't want to see what a complete fool he makes of himself in this film. He comes up with some overacting that would make Bill Shatner cringe.
  • Olivia Williams is a good enough actress, but she might need some help picking up the right scripts. Wasn't she also in The Postman? What percentage of her life did she waste making those two movies?

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 3.9 
  • With their dollars ... Lion's Gate virtually scrapped it. It grossed $33,000.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-. Great premise, solid production values, but no consistent concept.

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