THE NATIVITY STORY (Catherine Hardwicke). 101 minutes. Opens Friday (December 1). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: N Rating: N
The Nativity Story, Catherine Hardwicke's chaste follow-up to her sex-filled teen docudramas Thirteen and Lords Of Dogtown, is little more than a family-friendly cash grab for the Passion Of The Christ audience.
Mercifully, Hardwicke leaves the gory bits to Mel Gibson and concentrates on a pregnant Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and her husband, Joseph (Oscar Isaac), as they travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. In between, there are glimpses of evil King Herod (Ciarán Hinds, typecast after his stint on HBO's Rome) and much-needed comic relief from the three bickering wise men.
The bloated film, the first feature ever to premiere at the Vatican, wouldn't smell so much of religious pandering if it had any energy or an actual feel for character. Instead, screenwriter Mike Rich, known for saccharine underdog stories Radio and Finding Forrester, saddles the actors with tepid dialogue that wouldn't be out of place in a grade three production.
The visceral, compelling drama of Hardwicke's Thirteen is absent as Joseph and Mary trek lifelessly across the landscape looking as bored as the audience. Families wanting a celebration of the holiday spirit should rent A Charlie Brown Christmas instead.