Even by the standards of the Old Testament, the horny strongman Samson is a perplexing character. He kills a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, sets 300 foxes on fire, murders 30 men for their clothes. He falls for a femme fatale who zaps his superhuman strength with a haircut and ends up blinded, working a millstone like a donkey, before he gets his revenge. Samson is one of God’s chosen, but he is ruled by vengeance and sex. Like the rest of the violent and cyclical narrative of the Book Of Judges, his story resists evangelical interpretations or most attempts to read the values of the New Testament into the heroes of the Old. But that hasn’t stopped Pure Flix, the producers of such evangelical cheapies as God’s Not Dead and The Case For Christ, from trying their hand at some Black Panther counter-programming with Samson, a bargain-bin biblical epic that delivers the requisite mass-murder-by-ass-jaw as a cheapjack approximation of Zack Snyder-esque pomp, but is for the most part clinically dull.
Taylor James, an unseasoned English actor with vaguely Schwarzeneggerian features, stars as the mighty Israelite, raised by his father, Manoah (Rutger Hauer), to lead his people against their eye-liner-wearing Philistine oppressors, King Balak (Billy Zane) and his scheming son Rallah (Jackson Rathbone). With the sort of textual insight one would expect from a movie that presumes the “corn” referred to in the Old Testament is maize, Samson sketches him as just another reluctant evangelical-movie everyguy learning to accept the Lord’s plan—a pickup truck, boot-cut-jeans guy in an era of strappy sandals. His libido tamed, this Samson takes young women out on picnic dates, and though he still visits a brothel in Gaza, his reasons are promise-ring pure. Occasionally, he tussles with Philistines, his punches sped up by jump cuts—a cheesy effect that goes back to the cowboy serials of the 1930s.
Most of the movie’s discount production values have a similar vintage: stock landscape and aerial shots; sackcloth-looking costumes; bad fake beards; exclaimed exposition (“I know him—that’s Samson the Hebrew strongman!”); wooden or uncharismatic stars; slumming actors in supporting roles; baffling scenes cut to hide bad effects; rocky and scraggled exteriors that look like they were shot in a state park. (Samson was apparently filmed in South Africa; they should have saved themselves the trouble.) In other words, there isn’t much to distinguish the film from any number of churchy programmers set in dusty olden times. But at least it still has a hero who sets foxes on fire, challenges wedding guests with a riddle he found inside a dead lion, and kills and loots as indiscriminately as the protagonist of a first-person shooter, which puts it a cut or two above The Young Messiah.