- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

I guess you can see why Paulist Productions felt the Jesus story, as it were, shouldn’t remain solely in the hands of a superstar like Mel Gibson. Now, just two weeks after the release of Mr. Gibson’s mega hit, “The Passion of the Christ,” the producers joining forces with Fatima productions and Paramount Pictures are telling the story of Jesus’ disciple Judas in a made-for-TV movie airing at 9 tonight on ABC.

Let me tell you, there’s definitely something to be said for Aramaic. With “Judas,” we’d all be spared some of the most laughable dialogue in any Bible story film. The movie opens with a pretentious statement, “the following film is an interpretive dramatization of Judas’ relationship with Jesus.” Judas apart from his key role after the Last Supper, has very little place in the life of the Christ. Still, the scriptwriters managed to put a spin on the well-known story — with Judas (played by Johnathon Schaech) wanting to get Jesus crowned the earthly King of the Jews and thereby overthrow the Romans.

Jesus, portrayed by Jonathan Scarfe as a sun-bleached, surfer-dude of a messiah, throws a brotherly arm over Judas’ shoulders. “Come spend eternity with me in my father’s house. What do you say?” When one of the disciples mutters “Can’t you ever say what you mean?,” after a homily delivered by Jesus, you think that maybe you’ve slipped into watching Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.”

If Jesus sounds laid back, just listen to the lines Pontius Pilate (actor Tim Matheson) has to deliver: “What in the name of sweet Minerva is a Messiah?” And when reacting to the tale of Lazarus he thunders, “Raising the dead! Great! All I need are dead Jews strutting around!”

As for the beating and scourging of Jesus: the makeup man merely dribbled a little red paint across Mr. Scarfe’s shoulder and chest. The Crucifixion is soon over, and there’s no Resurrection.

Mr. Schaech is an interesting-looking fellow and, if given a part in another film, might honorably acquit himself from this. There’s little else he can do with scenes where he’s trying to talk Jesus into charging for miracles. I did, however, enjoy Jesus telling Judas — when realizing his disciple’s coming betrayal — “Do what you have to do, my friend.”

Advance press material on “Judas” portrays him as an incredibly complex figure. Perhaps he was, but you get precious little proof from the Gospels. Here,the creative input from these filmmakers is pathetic. The whole idea of there being zealots and a Jewish underground wanting to drive out the Roman overlords is treated on a par with old Hollywood movies about the French resistance movement.

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