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Color of the Cross
There's a good chance I could go to Hell for what I have to say about this movie, and if that's my fate, so be it; as long as I prevent other unsuspecting souls from sitting through this plodding waste of time. Since I have acknowledged the possibility of damnation and my willingness to deal with it when my time comes, there is no need for any of you to send me emails accusing me of being an anti-Christian jackass. Just stop reading this review now, and none of us will have to have our day ruined.
I am, by no great stretch of imagination, what you might consider a religious person. I do, however, have a more than casual knowledge of the life of Jesus, and ever since I was a kid I have been obsessed with films about Christ, which is why I was anxious to see this film. The case for the DVD promised a film that would "change everything you believe," and went so far as to say the film was a "daring masterpiece." A bit hyperbolic in its proclamation, to be sure, but still enough to get me curious.
Set during the last two days in the life of Jesus Christ (Jean Claude LaMarre), Color of the Cross offers the standard recounting of the Last Supper, Judas' betrayal of Christ, and the crucifixion, with one major exception: Jesus is portrayed by a black man. Now, the case for the DVD proclaims that this is the first film to portray Jesus as a black man, and that might be true if you don't count Blair Underwood's short film Second Coming, or 1968's Seated at His Right, which was re-released in 1971 as Black Jesus, starring Woody Strode in a role that was an amalgam of Christ and slain African leader Patrice Lumumba. But since the DVD packaging also uses words like "astounding" and "compelling" with reckless abandon, accuracy and truth have little baring in the marketing of this film.
The film begins with the usual suspects of Caiphas and the other Jewish priests and pharoses dealing with the oppressive Roman occupation of Jerusalem. Caiphas and his cronies are under extreme pressure to keep the people in check for the Romans, and when word of a traveling prophet's arrival in town for Passover reaches them, and opportunity arises to earn favor the Caesar's legions. And we all pretty much know what happens from there: The Romans hunt for Jesus, the apostles all sit down for the Last Supper, Judas betrays Jesus, Peter denies Jesus, the kiss at the Garden of Gethsemane, blah, blah, blah.
From a standpoint of pure storytelling, the final days of Jesus make for some of the best drama imaginable. Which is why the unmitigated failure of this maudlin bit of cinema is such a major disappointment. There has to be a true deficit of talent at work to screw this story up. And yet, director, star and co-writer LaMarre has managed to make a film that is boring and uninspired as it is uncompelling and pedestrian. The script is poorly written, or perhaps it is just marred by performances that range from decent high school-ish acting to just plain bad. La Marre seems to have no sense of pacing, as the film, which runs at a scant 89 minutes, seems to drag on forever – at least Passion of the Christ had some great torture sequences. This film, however, is just plain torture.
Color of the Cross makes one of its biggest mistakes in the assumption that by casting Jesus as a black man, the film will automatically have something profound to say. There is a more than subtle implication that Jesus was persecuted as much for his teachings as he was for his skin color. This concept, which could have been compelling in infinitely more capable cinematic hands, is nothing more than a gimmick to mask a film of diminishing merit. The controversy of Christ being depicted as black man, or the possibility of his color playing into how he was perceived or dealt with is lost in the muck and mire of mediocrity that permeates this film from start to finish.
Ultimately, the success or failure of any Jesus film is based on the ability to show Christ as either the miracle working savior, the rebel pain-in-the-ass that challenged the status quo, or a bit of both. Color of the Cross does none of these in any measurable dose, and instead portrays the messiah as a man of such little charisma that it is a wonder how he could get anyone to notice him even if he rode into town on a donkey flanked by twelve other men all wearing dresses. With so many great films about Christ to choose from, ranging from the controversial to the sappy Hollywood Bible epics, there are more than enough other films to watch instead of this one. Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth is infinitely better, and even the blue-eyed Jesus movie King of Kings is more entertaining. And if it's a controversial Christ you want, try to find a copy of The Passover Plot, which is sadly not out on DVD.
Color of the Cross is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is great, which is a credit to director of photography Paul Mayne. But that's about the only good thing to say about this film.
Color of the Cross is presented in 5.1 Dolby Surround.
There is a brief making of featurette that only succeeds in making Color of the Cross seem as bad and as boring as it really is.
What do I know, I'm just a sinner damned to Hell?
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]