First things first. Could the timing be any worse for a movie with a diversity problem as extensive as "Gods of Egypt"? Only two days before #OscarsSoWhite Sunday, a movie comes out set in ancient Egypt and starring white actors from Australia, Scotland and Denmark.
It's worth noting, of course, that both Lionsgate and director Alex Proyas apologized back in November, saying their casting choices should have been more diverse.
They deserve credit for that, but it turns out they had even more to apologize for. Because "Gods of Egypt" is also a just plain bad movie. The plot is confusing, yet boring. The visuals look expensive, yet cheesily fake. And the performances are uninteresting, yet ... well, they're just uninteresting.
Mostly, it seems like the producers set out to make a video game for the preteen set, got lost and ended up in your neighborhood multiplex.
We begin, as we said, in ancient Egypt — but in this Egypt, gods live among the mortals (and in one case, in outer space. Yes. More on that later.) The gods look just like the humans, only they're much taller, and in really good shape, too — all those centuries in the gym, probably.
We're told in a voiceover that the good god Osiris has decided to crown his son, Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, of "Game of Thrones"), king. A vast crowd assembles for the coronation. But suddenly here comes Horus' uncle Set, the god of darkness (Gerard Butler, boldly making the case that Egyptian deities had strong Scottish accents.) Set thinks HE should be king. To achieve this, he stabs Osiris to death and maims Horus, tearing out his eyes.
A very bad period ensues for both gods and mortals. But there are only two mortals we're supposed to care about: Bek (Brenton Thwaites) and Zaya (Courtney Eaton), an extremely attractive young couple who are much in love.
For reasons not worth explaining, Zaya suggests that Bek, whose main occupation is being handsome, but also is apparently a talented thief, should steal Horus' eyes. These eyes (now glowing jewels) are being stored in a super-secret vault belonging to Set.
The idea is to return them to the wounded Horus, so he can fight back and retake the throne. But tragic complications develop. Bek and Horus become sort of a god-mortal buddy team, each with his own urgent agenda.
And suddenly they're in outer space! On a space ship! We think! But we can't promise!
This is where Ra (Geoffrey Rush), the sun deity and grandfather of Horus, lives, and occasionally bursts into flames. Rush is entertaining even when you're not quite sure you're supposed to be laughing. This is, actually an issue with much of the screenplay by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless: We're always wondering if it's silly and self-aware, or just plain silly.
So, when a character says, "That's not worth the papyrus it's written on," is it safe to laugh? One wonders whether the filmmakers actually resolved this question for themselves.
The performances are serviceable at best. Butler is all rage and bluster. Thwaites is sweet, but seems way too relaxed and even-keeled for someone constantly facing death, or the afterlife, or both. Then there's Chadwick Boseman, so memorably good in both "42" and "Get On Up" that you feel for him. Is he enjoying himself in this silly part, or aching to get out?
As for the visuals: can something look so expensive and so cheap at once? It looks like those pyramids were sketched in yesterday as an afterthought, despite the $140 million budget.
It's obvious the filmmakers were gunning for a sequel here. But this bloated enterprise is so tiresome by the end, it seems more likely headed for a long rest somewhere in the cinematic afterlife.
"Gods of Egypt," a Summit Entertainment release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America "for fantasy violence and action, and some sexuality." Running time: 127 minutes. One-half star out of four.
Definition of PG-13: Parental guidance suggested.