Monday, April 26, 2010

Bless the Child

There are a lot of reasons a movie ends up being a being a piece of crap. An incompetent director, for example, can sink a film. A talentless cast of actors will do the same. A sloppy, incoherent script is a proverbial albatross, as no amount of acting, direction, scoring or dance numbers can overcome a clunky story. Of course, there are times when all these elements come together in some sort of perfect storm of film making and a movie of unimaginable suckitude is loosed upon the world.

But perhaps the worst reason for a film being utter crap is laziness. Clearly, that's what happened here.

This is typified by a bit of dialogue late in the film: An agent with the Ritual Homicide and Occult Related Crime Division™ of the FBI looking at some voodoo scribbled in the dirt notes "That's a Druid rune spell straight out of the sixteenth century."

What? No.

Okay, contest time: The first person to tell me everything factually wrong with that sentence wins a prize**. If the script writers had done this, they'd have saved themselves some embarrassment.

Incoherent dialogue aside, the performances here are wooden and uninspired from the top down. I wonder if everyone involved here was working on this film as a court-imposed community service. It all seems so half-assed, as if those involved are here because they have to be, not because they want to be.

Jimmy Smits stars as New York cop, stepping outside his comfort zone as an actor here. Kim Basinger attempts to have her Oscar revoked, taunting the Academy by playing a not-very-bright doctor and guardian to the second coming of baby Jesus, failing to convince as either a doctor or mother-figure. And odder still, Ian Holm shows up briefly to deliver dialogue from The Usual Suspects, his sole bit of characterization being a wheelchair.

And then there's Rufus Sewell as former child actor turned self-help guru/Satan's minion. (Like Kirk Cameron, only not as big a douche.) Part Deepak Chopra, part Aleister Crowley, he heads a Scientology-like cult called The New Dawn. I guess calling it Golden Dawn would have been too obvious. His performance is, sadly, not very good. In his attempts to be simultaneously suave and evil, charming and Satanic, he fails completely and just comes across as an overacting doofus.

The story itself is a poorly assembled amalgam of other, mostly better, films. Obviously, the film owes much to The Omen, The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby, but also makes odd nods to The Empire Strikes Back (huh?) and latter day Satan-fests like Stigmata (ummm, why?). It's a film that has no ideas of its own, and can't even be bothered to throw some new polish in those it's borrowed.

A few days before Christmas a child is born as a mysterious star appears in the sky. This star hasn't been seen in a couple thousand years, and wise folks, particularly elderly black women on buses, portend this is the sign someone special has just arrived. Soon after (like five minutes later), Maggie O'Connor's long lost junkie sister arrives at her door, newborn under her arm. Not realizing she's in a ham-fisted movie, Maggie (Kim Basinger) is unable to put two and two together, and never realizes the young girl is more than just your ordinary crack baby. Maggie's sister disappears moments later, leaving her daughter in her sister's care.

Six years later, the girl, Cody, isn't quite like the other kids. She appears autistic, or, more accurately, movie-autistic, which is a whole separate condition. Movie-autism is manifested by the young girl pounding her head into the wall (thereby driving away all of Maggie's dates (men as such insensitive assholes!)), re-animating dead animals, curing cancer and spinning dinner plates with her mind. How this is going to help her become a prophet or savior or whatever it is she is supposed to be, ain't exactly clear.

Nonetheless, Eric Stark (Doofus Sewell) wants her. His plan is to turn her evil, make her some sort of Antichrist. Now, I've seen at least half of The Omen movies, and I know for a fact that the Antichrist is born, not made (see: Karl Rove). This movie can't even get it's mythology straight.

If Stark can't turn Cody, he'll kill her. He and his henchmen have already snatched up six kids all born on the same day and killed them, just to be sure she's The One. (No, not Neo.) Stark arrives at Maggie's house with her sister in tow, now all clean and sober and recently married.

Stark and his new wife abduct the girl and it's up to Maggie to save her. She enlists the help of Agent Travis (Jimmy Smits), from the Ritual Homicide squad to help. NYC apparently has the world's worst cops, as he's the only person that notices all the murdered kids were born on the same day. Really, the NYPD needed the FBI to point this out to them? Things just ain't been the same since Serpico retired.

Okay, so it's anyone's guess how this mess will play out. Will the cute girl turn evil and plunge the world into darkness? Or will she remain good and true and save us all? Will Travis shoot Stark to death? Take a guess.

What I will tell you is that there are some profoundly ridiculous moments in this movie. Cars explode for no reason, angels appear as janitors and save flowers, a man has knitting needles jabbed in his eyes, and Christina Ricci is attacked by demons, beheaded, and then disappears. Mercifully, her time on screen is short. Kim Basinger doesn't fare as well, as much of the movie must be propped up by her performance, and she clearly doesn't seem to give a shit.

And if she doesn't care, how is the audience supposed to?

Directed by Chuck Russell • R • 2000 • 107 minutes

** There is no prize.

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