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HERE'S SOMETHING you never thought you'd see in a movie: John Turturro wearing eyeliner and a King Tut hat, asking for the future to be foretold in bird guts.

Turturro's done plenty of comedy, but gets the biggest laugh of his career when he utters the following line: "What do the entrails say?"

They say you don't have to cut open a duck and dump its innards out on a table to know that Turturro, skilled as he is, is a goofy choice for an Egyptian bigshot.

"Exodus: Gods and Kings" - which does a spectacular job applying modern special effects to the 10 plagues - is itself plagued by a retrograde decision to cast Westerners as Egyptians (not to mention God).

It's the Middle East as Middle Earth.

There are so many Aussies in this movie you'd think Memphis was somewhere between Sydney and Perth. One of them, Joel Edgerton, who plays the slave-driving pharaoh Ramses, does an impersonation of Richard Burton circa "Cleopatra," and so we have an Aussie playing a Brit playing a Roman in another movie set in Egypt.

His Ramses is stepbrother to stalwart warrior Moses, who saves Ramses' life during the movie's opening battle, leaving Ramses jealously in his debt.

When Ramses receives information that Moses is actually Hebrew, he banishes him, setting in motion the story of exile and return and liberation, the latter the result of catastrophes visited upon Egypt.

The plagues are the show here. Despite the movie's silly flaws, what Ridley Scott ("Gladiator") does with frogs and locusts and rivers of blood takes "Exodus" to a place that other biblical epics have not reached.

The sequences culminate with the mass killing of Egyptian children - we watch as a silent, spreading shadow stills the breath of one sleeping child after another. The scene is deathly quiet - we can hear the children stop breathing - and disquieting. The deaths are made grotesquely real, and the movie uses this grisly spectacle to wonder (aloud) how these innocents, caught in a crossfire of conflict in which they have no role, could be viewed by anyone as acceptable collateral damage.

The scene seems to reveal Scott's suspicion of dogmatic religious conviction and its consequences. Christian Bale, perhaps taking his cue from Scott, plays Moses as a man who becomes more strident as his faith grows stronger, turning him into a gaunt, knotty-bearded zealot who walks into the desert and howls at the wind.

Or so it seems to his friends (Aaron Paul is Joshua). In these scenes, Moses is actually talking to God or his emissary, taking the form of a boy (Isaac Andrews), who is impatient for Moses to accept his role as man who will lead the Jews out of Egypt, out of slavery.

When it finally happens, it allows Scott to take his De Mille-ian crack at the Red Sea. Again, he delivers this spectacle on a more realistic scale, shooting Moses and his people at eye level as they struggle with the current, pulled by the gathering wall of water forming out of view.

The tumult of the crashing waves seems to leave everyone exhausted, including Scott, who dashes off the Ten Commandments in a few seconds.

It ends with Moses on the road to the promised land, a devastated Egypt in his wake, the land of milk and honey somewhere over the horizon.

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