Review: ‘The Last Templar’

Television Critic

Forget boy meets girl, boy loses girl, etc. Knight finds holy relic, knight hides holy relic, modern archaeologist/art historian/guy on the street races Dark Forces to get holy relic --that’s the way to go these days. Think “The Da Vinci Code,“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” or even “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.”

Or, for that matter, “The Last Templar,” a novel by Raymond Khoury which recently sat on various bestseller lists for weeks and weeks and comes to you now, courtesy of NBC, as a four-hour miniseries that begins at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Starring Oscar winner Mira Sorvino (“Mighty Aphrodite”), “The Last Templar” offers for your viewing pleasure all the requisite historical mystery and treasure hunt marks -- buried leather pouches! ancient contraptions! troublesome academics! very tough priests! -- along with a rare and welcome female lead, a feisty archaeologist with much better hair than either Tom Hanks or Harrison Ford (and certainly better than Nicolas Cage). If only it were slightly less silly.

Sorvino plays a second-generation archaeologist so girly that she has the requisite “Sex and the City” shoe fetish and so tough that, when a fancy museum opening of an exhibit of Vatican treasures is interrupted by four guys on horseback and in full knight regalia slicing up guards and busting open cases, she takes a stand. And a horse. And a lance. And brings one of the guys down.

Her foil comes in the form of FBI Agent Sean Daley (Scott Foley), who delivers the necessary lecture about Tess being headstrong and crazy but secretly thinks she’s kind of cute. Soon he’s drawn, naysaying and bantering all the while, into the historically dubious but still-tantalizing theory that somehow this theft is related to the secret treasure of the Knights of the Templar. You know, the one Tess has been seeking All Her Life.

So the hunt is on, with some very fun flashbacks to the Templars escaping with their treasure, ancient inventions recalibrated, airport safety procedures circumvented, documents unearthed and the often-cantankerous relationship between history and religion revisited. Daley is enlisted by one Monsignor De Angelis (Victor Garber) to ensure that the investigation into the theft remains respectful of church doctrine. (Daley, apparently, understands neither the very important concept of separation of church and state nor the fact that if Victor Garber is playing a priest named De Angelis, a person would do well to watch his back.)

The plot gallops over multiple terrains, overburdened by treachery and budding romance, as the search takes Tess and Daley into colorful Turkish marketplaces and desolate Turkish deserts in search of the map that will lead them to the treasure, which turns out to be . . . a famous something you’ve never heard of. Or maybe you have. Omar Sharif even makes an appearance at the end, as a saintly tiny-island dweller who we suspect is more than he appears to be.

If it sounds like a lot, it is. “The Last Templar” has overly lofty ambitions for a network action thriller miniseries, even one starring Mira Sorvino and Omar Sharif.

What begins as a more than slightly fantastic revision of the Templar legend takes an ill-advised turn toward theological theorizing and New Agey spiritual advice.

But then that’s the downside of the whole knights and holy relics template. Once you start mucking about with the Grail or anything remotely connected to the actual life of the man called Jesus, you can get into choppy waters. And unfortunately those waters swamp “The Last Templar.”

The action is too sword-and-sandal, the relationship between Tess and Daley far too adorably argumentative for the writers (Khoury and Suzette Couture) to decide, at the relatively last minute, to make “The Last Templar” a sanctimonious treatise on the nature of Christ and the importance of religious faith.

What the novel may have been able to accomplish the miniseries does not, and in the end the main mystery of “The Last Templar” is what sort of story it actually wanted to be.