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'Ten Commandments' is an inane, empty remake

The Ten Commandments
Starring: Dougray Scott, Susan Lynch, Naveen Andrews, Mia Maestro, Paul Rhys, Linus Roache, Omar Sharif
On: ABC, Ch. 5
Time: Tonight and tomorrow night, 9-11

I've always wanted to open a review with ''LOL." And the moment almost arrived thanks to ABC's ''The Ten Commandments." Those three letters, Internet shorthand for ''laugh out loud," would go a long way in summing up this silly remake. But alas, they fail to connote the terrible tedium of watching the two-parter, produced by TV's expert in hollow spectacle, Robert Halmi Sr.

The bush burns.

The sea parts.

The pillow beckons.

This ''Ten Commandments," beginning tonight at 9 on Channel 5, makes you wish antidepressants had been available in biblical times. Then Moses might have quit all his whining and sulky dudgeon. He might even have mustered up some pride in his significant achievements. Portrayed by actor Dougray Scott, Moses is so lacking in leader-like charisma and confidence that he seems ready to break into tears at every sand dune. Sure, he looks like a gruff caveman, with an oddly stiff hippie wig that made me think of Phil Hartman's Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer skit from ''Saturday Night Live." But he's really just a mopey dope having a temper tantrum because he can't get tickets to a Pearl Jam concert.

We're supposed to feel blown away by the awesome special effects, of course. They are supposed to be Halmi's great stock in trade, along with gritty period authenticity. But the visual tricks in ''The Ten Commandments" have that cold, flat, digitized quality that dazzles but fails to awe. Even the scenes after God turns the Nile to blood are bland. It looks as if he's offering the people cherry Kool-Aid on the house, and they're recoiling as if to say, ''We prefer grape."

Even the dirt is unconvincing. In Part 2, which airs tomorrow night at 9, we get a close-up of Zipporah's fingernails as she embraces husband Moses. Clearly, faux dirt has been carefully applied to each perfect cuticle on actress Mia Maestro's hand. It has been just as carefully applied to every extra's face. And the Egyptian eye makeup looks a little too-too, leaving me wondering if it's tethered to some kind of product placement deal with Max Factor or Maybelline or Revlon. Hey, stranger things have happened.

All this may sound like lively camp, but it's not. If you want camp spectacle, rent Cecil B. DeMille's far superior 1956 ''Ten Commandments," or watch it Saturday night (also on ABC).

The story goes mostly the way we expect it to go. We see the infant Moses escape death (looking suspiciously like a rubber doll -- or two rubber dolls, Sleeping Baby Moses and Crying Baby Moses). We see him raised as a prince before reconnecting with his original family. We see his confrontations with Pharaoh Ramses (an arch Paul Rhys), which lead to the emancipation of the Hebrew slaves and the search for the Promised Land. What we don't see is much interpersonal drama amid all the big events. Even the strained bond between Moses and his stepbrother Menerith (an uninteresting Naveen Andrews) is not very affecting.

''The Ten Commandments" has a built-in audience of religious viewers. And it is a story begging to be a state-of-the-art effects extravaganza. But there are many stories with similar potential. Taking on a religious tale without exploring the characters' souls, without dramatizing their spiritual struggles, is like serving potato kugel without potatoes. It's empty, tasteless. In this version of ''The Ten Commandments," Moses deals with his pivotal role like a kid whose mother is forcing him to clean the yard.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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