"Trite, rhetorical, clinched inane!" sneers Damien Thorn, the diabolical protagonist of "The Final Conflict," upon witnessing a rough cut of a promotional film for his multinational corporation, Thorn Industries.
Ironically, the abused promo makes a plausible case for Thorn Industries. "The Final Conflict" makes no case for prolonging the saga of "The Omen" one last groggy round. Like many a misbegotten movie, "The Final Conflict," now at area theaters, reveals a charming compulsion to write its own epitaph.
Moviegoers who expected the concluding chapter of The Omen Trilogy to supply a ringside seat at Armageddon should be prepared for conflict on a far punier scale. On one occasion Damien the Anti-Christ, relocated in London, where he had inherited the post of U.S. ambassador to England (once held by this hapless foster father, the Gregory Peck character in "The Omen") is seen rallying an army of mesmerized followers. However, he deploys them like an Old Testament pharaoh, ordering the murders of all male infants born in Great Britain on a certain date, fearing that the reborn Messiah is among them.
"He was born last night," Damien snaps at his private secretary, Harvey. "I feel his presence, like a virus, a parasite . . ." Screenwriter Andrew Birkin has a way with rhetoric that is distinctively misguided. We're also shown Damien in a secret chamber, haranguing a stutue of Christ mounted backwards on the cross: "There is only one hell -- the leaden monotomy of human existence. There is only one heaven -- the ecstasy of my father's kingdom. While you were born of an importent God, I was born of a jackal! You profaner of vices, cursed Nazarene!"
A little cold water on the oratory, please. While all this would-be demonic blather is going on, it's absurdly apparent, from the first sight of Harvey's beaming and suspiciously pregnant wife Barbara, that the little savior figures to be born right under Damien's despotic nose. Why it takes him so long to appreciate this divine jest is one of several ridiculous mysteries Birkin insists on in his ramshackle plot.
Harvey assures Damien that his son's birth takes place 10 minutes before the lethal time-frame. What a trusting sort Damien becomes for the sake of temporary melodramatic convenience! When he wises up and orders Harvey to include his own baby in the slaughter, what should we make of Harvey's exclamation, "Damien, for the love of God!You're crazy!"? Well, sure he is, but reliable Harvy has been supervising infanticides for a week or more. He has also arranged the destruction of the Aswan Dam and tried to pin it on the Israelis.
Perhaps Harvey is supposed to symbolize a woozy notion of The Banality of Evil. It's more likely that he reflects the miscalulations and contradictions that absentminded hackwork can lead you into. Harvey's obliviousness is baffling, but then so is his marriage to the apparently pure-hearted Barbara and his failure to become Damien's antagonist. What's all the ominous manuevering for if it's not designed to have a payoff?
When not ordering the massacre of baby boys, Damien is preoccupied with seducing a British TV journalist ("The Barbara Walters of British TV?" he inquires hopefully upon being introduced) and disarming a party of Catholic Thugees from an Italian monastery. The seven monkish assassins possess seven mystical daggers, with which they hope to exterminate Damien in order to protect the Second Coming. This motif has been cribbed cavalierly from "Superman." Damien describes the exotic knives as "the only thing on Earth that can kill me." The Seven Daggers of Krypton, so to speak.
It's obvious that six monks have to fail before their leader, Rossano Brazzi as Brother De Carlo (no relation to Yvonne), can take a climactic stab at Damien.When it comes, the main event also proves a botch. The film-makers have extraordinary trouble deciding who should deliver the coup de grace, and from where, and whether it should really be regarded as fatal (not another sequel!), and whether anyone is supposed to be left around to sum up.
The major contest between Damien and De Carlo is phonetic rather than melodramatic. Damien is played by Sam Neill, the intent, cagey young Australian actor who recalls James Mason in many pleasurable respects. The leading man in "My Brilliant Career," Neill has lost his voice in the course of winning the lead in this big Anglo-American potboiler. Ultimately, the dubbing may serve to protect his career, but it's disconcerting, because the sound level fluctuates between the anonymous disembodied voice chosen for Damien -- it sounds like someone attempting Warren Beatty -- and the other actors. While Neill's soft Australian accent has been purged, Brazzi reads lines with an Italian accent that seems thicker than it was 30 years ago. "Oh, Lord, blessa deesa seven-a sacred knives-a," he intones in his opening scene, setting a mood for more useful to a Chef Boyardee commercial.
The most unsavory episodes depict Damien's flunkies inducing the deaths of infants. This sequence culminates in a typically nasty, heartless deception, leading the audience to believe that a woman is about to press a hot iron to the face of her baby. We're shown an incinerated form in the cradle and then the unharmed baby. This vision is momentarily ascribed to the mother, but is clearly a deplorable fancy of the filmmakers.
Infanticide has been a cruel motif of the entire series, nominally justified by the idea that little Damien had to be stopped, being the spawn of Satan. The pretext never transcended the immediate ugliness of the murder attempts. In the finale it's baser yet, adapted to permit Damien a wave of baby-killing. There's sure nothing purgative about the kind of anxiety the filmmakers are exploiting. If anything, it condemns them to strictly degenerate company.