Reader, have you ever seen a time-traveling mercenary double-tap Christ the Lord to ensure Muslim dominion over human history?
If you cringe at the invocation of “Muslim dominion,” you’re in the right mental space for Assassin 33 A.D., a uniquely extraordinary blend of wildly conservative Christian cinema and sacrilegious science-fiction tomfoolery. (After the most perfunctory pre-pandemic theatrical release possible, the film is currently available to stream for Amazon Prime Video subscribers.)
Brandt (Donny Boaz), a pious white Christian, loses his wife, Diane (The Hills star Heidi Montag) and two children in a car accident, which shatters his faith in God. Brandt uses his ex-military training to work security for Ahmed Ahkbar (Gerardo Davila), “the world’s most famous refugee” (uhhhh), who is secretly using the knowledge of his resident atheist scientific genius Ram Goldstein (Morgan Roberts) — uhhhhhh — to hatch a uniquely devious plan. Using Goldstein’s work, Ahkbar will send Brandt and a team of jihadists to A.D. 33, where they will assassinate Jesus Christ (American Idol alum Jason Castro) on the eve of his crucifixion.
After years of watching shitty movies like Sicario: Day of the Soldado and My Stretch of Texas Ground blend Fox News’s white-genocide bogeymen into the underwhelming and unrealistic fan fiction of “Muslim extremists crossing the southern border,” it’s nice to watch someone get a little wild with their panic. For what it’s worth, multiple characters make offhanded remarks about how Ahmed does not represent all Muslims — although Goldstein later asks Ahmed why if Allah is so great, he never lifted a finger to stop Hitler. All things considered, it’s a real mixed bag — about on par with an old season of 24.
So, why would I recommend Assassin 33 A.D. to fellow connoisseurs of cinematic dogshit? Quite simply, it’s a movie that never lets up. So few films truly embrace their controversial high concepts to their furthest conclusions, and writer-director Jim Carroll is nothing if not maximalist within the confines of his budget. Goldstein’s explanations for how time travel does, or does not, work at any given time would make Christopher Nolan blush. Jesus not only gets blown away, but also crucified — and just wait until you see who goes up on the crosses beside him.
Every named character in Assassin 33 A.D. dies at least one time, if not multiple times. Perhaps viewers of stronger faith viewer would see this as a way of referencing Christ’s death and rebirth. Doubtful. By the last third of Carroll’s film, time travel takes narrative precedence over any theological messaging or Christ’s teachings. It’s hard to imagine Christians watching the excessive bloodshed and gunfire and finding a deeper-faith message in it, but maybe that’s why I don’t go to church anymore.
However, action and violence against sacred figures isn’t the only reason Assassin 33 A.D. succeeds. It is frequently, intentionally laugh-out loud hilarious. One of Goldstein’s lab partners, Simon (Lamar Usher), has a pivotal scene in which he warns Jesus about his impending doom but it also pokes fun at Christian film culture and implies that Jesus, thanks to his Godly wisdom, not only knows what films are but has already seen The Terminator. Carroll never takes his premise too seriously, which is what makes many faith-based films a drag.
Along with the silly script, Carroll’s budgetary limitations and amateur cast give most of the movie a decidedly Neil Breen-esque atmosphere. Breen, for the uninitiated, is an ultra-cult filmmaker whose movies always achieve a delightful detachment from reality. Fateful Findings is particularly iconic. Poor sound design, strange cuts, lo-fi special effects, odd action-sequence geography and an amateur cast with the talent and, conversely, enthusiasm of a youth group summer-camp troupe. These are all elements that can kill a film or, if captured just right by a talented auteur, only make for a perfect cinematic experience. Although his script certainly pushes some problematic buttons and has a premise ripped straight out of 2002, Carroll’s humor, vision and approach relative to his budget make Assassin 33 A.D. 2020’s first schlock classic.