I could tell you what I thought Assassin 33 A.D. was going to be about, and I would not turn out to have been precisely "wrong", and it would seem like a completely bugfuck bonkers movie that simultaneously must be seen to be believed, and also is so revolting to human decency that nobody really has any reason they should ever think about subjecting themselves to it. I would also have described a much, much simpler and cleaner movie than Assassin 33 A.D. actually is.

The simple version goes like this: a group of Muslim extremists develop a time machine, so they can travel back in time and disrupt the single event most responsible for preventing the success of global jihad: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Now, one could wrute a full review - probably even a pretty hefty paper, for that matter - teasing out just how much is wrong with only that one sentence, and all the assumptions packed into it, and what this tells us about the worldview of the sort of conservative U.S. Christians by whom and for whom this movie was made (for Assassin 33 A.D. is indeed one of those "angry reactionary Christian" movies of the sort typified in the public imagination by the overheated, paranoiac likes of God's Not Dead and its sequels; this is, however, deranged in ways that make those movies look like docurealist character dramas. Hell, this makes Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 look like a docurealist character drama). But we haven't even begun turning over all of the rocks that Assassin 33 A.D. has strewn across our path.

For, when it comes down to it: "Muslim terrorists want to kill Jesus with machine guns before he can be crucified, or maybe it's that they want to wait until he's been resurrected and then kill him before anybody can see him the second time, it seems to change based on the scene" isn't even really the film's story. It's the complication to a story that already had more than its fair share of complication, but it doesn't appear until about 35 minutes into a wildly jam-packed 109-minute running time. Prior to that point, we've first met Brandt (Donny Boaz), whose wife (Heidi Montag, given fourth billing for a fucking bizarre 45-second cameo where she is described, in the absence of all evidence, as British) and children die in a car accident in the film's very first scene. And this obviously sets up a film-length character arc for Brandt as he gets very mad at God for killing his family, and slow grows to find his faith again. So obviously, in fact, that this isn't even what the film does with him: he ends up becoming the villain's main henchman, and rather than finding his faith again, he dies horribly in the 1st Century A.D. That's not a spoiler, actually: pretty much every single character in Assassin 33 A.D. dies at least once, and thanks to one of the most impenetrably convoluted time-travel plots I have ever seen in a movie, they come back. Some of them in order to die a second time, no less. What would be a spoiler is to say how Brandt dies the first time, since it is one of the film's most wonderful treasures of pure bugfuck nuttery, among the most jaw-droppingly blasphemous touches in a film that, theoretically, is pitched at exactly the kind of audience that would be most offended by that blasphemy.

Anyway, having taken all of this time to establish Brandt, and given him a distractingly famous wife, the movie drops him like a hot rock, in favor of a team of young scientists working for "the world's most famous refugee", an industrialist named Ahmed (Gerardo Davila - pretty much every Arab character in the film is played by a Latin-American actor). Led by Ram Goldstein (Morgan Roberts) - who looks both too WASPy, and not enough like a leather daddy, for a character named "Ram Goldstein" - the team also includes Amy Lee (Ilsa Levine), Simon (Lamar Usher), and Felix (Cesar D'La Torre), the last of whom is given a stuffed penguin toy in one scene that represents, to me, the film's most nagging hanging plot thread. They're working on developing matter teleportation, but Ram has a keen insight: the teleportation machine isn't working because they're not compensating SOMETHING SOMETHING SOMETHING time travel! Ahmed is of course delighted by this new application for his device, and has Ram's team continue to develop it. Astonishingly, they continue to do this even after accidentally spying on a video of Ahmed telling his lackeys, in roughly so many words, "once these foolish infidels have made me a time-travel machine, I will be able to go back in time to kill the prophet Jesus Christ and prevent Christianity from being born". Like, they redouble their efforts, even, at this point, even before Ahmed begins shooting people to blackmail Ram into finishing the device so he can go back in time to save them before they were shot.

That, again, gets us about 35 minutes into the film, and here I abandon the plot summary, because I think that I would need to watch Assassin 33 A.D. at least four or five times, taking detailed notes on a large whiteboard as I did it, to even start to tease out what the damn-ass fuck is going on. Like I said, pretty much everybody does once or twice, including Jesus Himself (Jason Castro) and sometimes it's the "prime" version of them who dies but sometimes the "loop" version, and in order to explain how they can keep replacing each other, Ram and Simon launch into a vomited torrent of technobabble that would put the most unwatchable, hacky episode of Star Trek: Voyager to shame. Highlights include Ram's insight that when you change the past, it has to "rewrite" history before it catches up to the present, and this takes anywhere from 10 minutes to a year. Or 2000 years, I might guess, but I am certainly not going to tell Ram Goldstein his business. Writer-director Jim Carroll seems to have very clear ideas about how this all works, given how many long conversations he plops into the film where characters explain it to each other, often while hiding from gunfire. Carroll has, unfortunately, not found a way to share this information with the rest of us, and so the movie basically consists of scene after scene (after scene, after scene) of people running around a very cheap-looking version of Jerusalem in 33 A.D., or around what appears a community college science building that has been fitted, not without some skill, into looking like a high-tech R&D facility for a major multinational corporation.

The best of these scenes, which is to say the most extraordinary stupid of them, involves the modern characters bumping into Jesus - who can speak fluent English and know what movies are, for truly this was the Son of God - or various other 1st Century characters, and somehow getting themselves tangled up with the biblical story, including at least one moment that could have been included without changing a solitary detail if this was the snarky atheist version of this exact same scenario (it's what the two Marys find when they enter the empty tomb). Seeing teams of armed paramilitary men mowing down the twelve disciples as they rest in Gethsamene is one of the more "are you sure you wanted that in your movie?" moments I have seen in quite some time, and this is nearer the beginning than the climax of the film's parade of garish, inexplicable attempts to wedge a sci-fi action movie into a costume drama about the passion of Christ that's also about a crypto-Jewish atheist scientist turning Christian while also screeching like a harpy about Those Muslims Who Hate Jesus (Even Though He's A Foundational Figure In Islam, Which Wouldn't Really Exist As Such Without Christianity, But I Think Jim Carroll Is Mostly Just Thinking About 9/11). It's a heady mixture of the xenophobic, the unwittingly sacrilegious, but most of all the exhilaratingly stupid, as the movie puts in a dead-serious, good-faith effort to create one of the most elaborate time-travel narratives I have ever seen in a movie, allowing that "elaborate" is here a euphemism for "unintelligible".

Compared to a great many of these deranged right-wing religious films that desperately want to copy some kind of heathen Hollywood genre film, Assassin 33 A.D. isn't the most atrociously-made thing: the lab space looks pretty decent for the budget, in particular, and it never mortifies itself with visual effects, though it certainly never does anything to brag about. There's a very intense "leftovers from the community theater's production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" feeling to the costumes in 33 A.D., and I can say nothing against the sets in that time period, since there really aren't any, just outdoor locations that maybe have like a single set piece propped up. Still, it's mostly just slick junk, with the exceptions largely happening at the margins, like the fuzzy outdoor sound recording, or the inexplicable "pixie dust" effect on the credits. And other than Levine, who severely over-stresses her dialogue

No, it's as a story that Assassin 33 A.D. thrives as a masterpiece of delightfully bad cinema, piling one ridiculous complication on the last, and with virtually every plot point in 33 A.D. itself (which is much less than I had expected) a new shining treasure of ill-advised, unintentional campy irreligious nonsense which leaves the whole movie reducing the Passion story to the matter of what dumb accidents were triggered by a bunch of nerdy scientists running around and attacking men with automatic rifles with sticks (the stick-wielding nerds, I am happy to report, win). Every time it tries to wedge itself back into the straightforward material of your Pure Flixes or your Affirm Films, the "now I see, the truth, let's pray together and resolve the plot with the power of bullshit" sort of meat-and-potatoes of faith-based filmmaking, some weird instinct within Carroll's brain goes "no!" and drops commandos from an alternate timeline into somebody's office to start shooting. It is really quite incredible, almost thrillingly unpredictable in what idiotic swerve or pile of mad science it's going to come up with next, the pacing never lets up even for a minute, and it is absolutely the best so-bad-it's-good movie of 2020 that I have seen.