The concept sounds pretty awesome: a behind-the-scenes look at the conception, gestation, and birth of Jesus, directed by a fearless expert on teen sluttiness (Catherine Hardwicke of Thirteen), starring a hot Joseph and that girl from Whale Rider with the cool-looking face. With such influential and fucked-up source material (Virgin birth? Massacre of the innocents?), The Nativity Story could have been so many interesting things: honest, humanizing, relatable, pointed. Instead, the film is simply boring.
Mary is your typical Nazarene teen: gossiping with the girls by the donkey-powered mill, whipping up blocks of soggy sheep cheese, picking hay off her tunic, and avoiding the rapey gaze of King Herod's cavalry. Soon after reluctant nuptials to smoldering, hunky Joseph (squeal!), Mary is visited by a majestic falcon (SKREEEE!). But ta-daaah! That's no falcon! It's actually one glowing, tall-and-a-half angel named Gabriel, with an important announcement: "Come, you will conceive in your womb. And bear a son. And call his name Jesus." It's not just any baby, though, and not just any baby daddy—instead, Gabriel explains, one of these nights, the old Holy Spirit's gonna sneak up Mary's Suez Canal and plant a Messiah in there! Hot!
Hardwicke's directorial hand is timid to the point of invisibility, as though she lacks the guts to tamper with such a canonical tale. She tempers the film's King James literality with weird moments of comic relief, such as a circumcision scene (haw!), and that hee-larious Sunday school favorite: the Kvetching of the Magi. Crossing a desert of vertiginous dunes, the Wise Men crack wise, mostly about who's the wisest, and how they got into this stupid pilgrimage in the first place.
There's not much suspense in the story of the nativity. Mostly, it's just a lot of walking. Mary and Joseph walking to Bethlehem. The Three Kings (of COMEDY!) riding camels to Bethlehem. King Herod pacing, vengefully. Even when Herod's troops start slaughtering babies left and right, Mary and Joseph and Jesus just sort of... leave. And start walking to Egypt like it's no prob. Pan up toward heaven, the sun bursts through the clouds, cue "Silent Night," roll credits, and it all congeals into the most expensive yard-art tableau ever made.