February 24, 2008

Reviewed by Nicole Pedersen

Being a DVD reviewer isn’t always easy. First off, no matter how many people tell me “I could do that,” taking the time to watch a movie and then coherently critique it takes time and effort. Second, DVD’s aren’t very glamorous. A DVD release is not the same as a theatrical premiere; it’s not exactly an ‘event,’ in other words. And finally, the pay stinks. Sure, you get to keep the DVD, but nine times out of ten you don’t want to keep it and you can’t resell it.

Despite all of this, every so often you get a DVD that makes it all worthwhile: a movie so colossally bad that you become genuinely excited by the prospect of writing about it. My ‘every so often’ is today, and that DVD is “The Final Inquiry” (available now from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment).

An Italian film from 2006, “The Final Inquiry” was procured by 20th Century Fox for its new home entertainment offshoot, ‘Fox Faith;’ a division aimed at tapping that vein of evangelical ore that was discovered around the time that Mel Gibson broke 100 million with “The Passion of the Christ.” Because most American filmmakers aren’t as religiously minded (read: bat shit crazy) as Gibson, Fox Faith has had to look abroad for films to fit its spiritual mission statement, enter “The Final Inquiry.”

“The Final Inquiry” takes place in the Roman Empire circa 33 AD; hmm… of what particular significance, I wonder, is that year? The film begins with a jarring, Empire-wide geological event: the earth trembles and the skies turn purple, leading the ailing Emperor Tiberius Caesar (Max von Sydow) to begin an investigation into the cause of the disturbance. He concludes that it has something to do with the execution of a man named Jesus in the province of Judea, and dispatches a loyal tribune of Rome to get to the bottom of the resurrection rumors he has heard.

Before being summoned by his emperor, the tribune, Titus Valerius Taurus (Daniel Loggia), has been busy subduing the barbarians of Germania. Here he captures a warrior named Brixus (Dolph Lundgren) and turns him into his personal bodyguard. Titus tells Brixus that he will spare his life, as long as he serves him faithfully from that day forward. Brixus replies:

“I will serve you, but you will never have my loyalty, unless I decide to give it to you.”

Brilliant! I mean, I almost expected to see the silhouettes of Joel Hodgson and two robots appear at the bottom of the screen! Needless to say, by the following scene, Brixus is already shambling after Titus and calling him “master” in what has to be one of the best tributes to the ‘Igor’ archetype yet onscreen. I can’t remember an actor who made better use of ‘the grunt’ as a character device besides Lundgren himself in his last ironic masterpiece, Johnny Mneumonic.

Titus and Brixus move on to Jerusalem where they quickly encounter Christianity’s usual suspects: Barabas, Pontius Pilate, Mary and Simon Peter. Titus also falls for Tabitha, the daughter of a violent, Jewish nobleman named Nathan (F. Murray Abraham). Tabitha is a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, Titus is your typical skeptical Roman; but through their love – surprise! – Titus learns to surrender logic for faith.

“The Final Inquiry” is not supposed to be a comedy, of course. It is dealing with the birth of Christianity after all, but can I help it if the film is also hilarious? It is actually a remake of the 1986 film “The Inquiry” starring Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel. I admit I have never seen the original, but if it is even a tenth as bad as “The Final Inquiry” I will put it to the top of my Netflix queue tonight.

And it isn’t only the comic growling of Lundgren that makes “Inquiry” hard to take seriously. Although the actors are speaking English, their voices have been re-dubbed for the DVD, ostensibly to minimize their accents. The result, of course, is a distractingly disjointed cadence reminiscent of the spaghetti westerns of Clint Eastwood; minus all of the awesome that is.

And speaking of those Italian Westerns, did I mention the soundtrack? Composed by Andrea Morricone (that’s right, son of the legendary Ennio), “Inquiry” is full of excessively dramatic orchestration and choral chanting that made it hard to believe that this Morricone was in any way related to the man who gave us the brilliant score of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Director Giulio Base did try to class up his take on the resurrection a little by including the venerated von Sydow and Oscar winner Abraham in key supporting roles. He even had Hristo Shopov reprise his role as Pontius Pilate from Gibson’s “The Passion.” But, unfortunately, all involved are limited by the ridiculous script.

A major criticism of HBO’s series “Rome” was that all of the actors had British accents. In “The Final Inquiry” it is not the accents that seem out of place, but the dialogue. Lines like “We’ll join you in a while” seem unbelievably anachronistic. Are we to believe that ancient Romans really used English conjunctions? And the story exposition employed by the writers borders on the ridiculous. These characters don’t just tell you where they are headed, they construct neon signs to make sure that the audience gets there ahead of time.

Any one watching “The Final Inquiry” would be forgiven for thinking that they had slipped in a DVD of “Xena: Warrior Princess” instead of a serious film on the historical roots of Christianity. The fight scenes are laughable, the camera shakes to represent an earthquake and the lead actors look like runners-up from “America’s Next Top Model.”

Still, there is joy in watching a movie so patently horrible. If you think Ed Wood meets Catechism sounds like fun than this is the film for you. Myself, I can only thank the Gods for sending me “The Final Inquiry” to review. I may not have rediscovered my faith in Jesus, but I certainly found a new appreciation for my role as a DVD reviewer.


“The Final Inquiry” is presented in widescreen format in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

Audio is in 5.1 Dolby Surround and the disk features subtitles in English, French and Spanish while mysteriously avoiding the native Italian of the cast. Thankfully, “Inquiry” contains no extras; featurettes or a commentary would have only blunted the ironic brilliance of this comic masterpiece.

Final Words

“The Final Inquiry” is only as bad as you choose to make it. If you want to take the film seriously you will be seriously disappointed. If you choose to think of it as a subject from “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” however, you will laugh your ass off. Just watching the actor who plays Caligula turn red and shake apoplectically as he kills Tiberius is an acting moment so atrocious it is worthy of veneration. In short, “Inquiry” is so bad it is damn near brilliant

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