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'Bless' Only the Devil May Care

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 11, 2000


    'Bless the Child' All hell breaks loose in "Bless the Child." (Paramount)
Kim Basinger is hit upside the head by demons, ogled by grimacing gargoyles and tetched by angels in the vexing supernatural thriller "Bless the Child." In hopes of likewise spooking the crowd, the filmmakers invoke all manner of spectral effects, but to no avail. Despite a cameo appearance by Lucifer himself, the scariest thing about this hokey bombast is that it got made in the first place.

Guttering tapers, Druidic chants, ravenous rats, crying icons, mist machines, excessive eyeliner and even pitchforks: Director Chuck Russell and crew try every ghoulish gambit, but for viewers, the edge of the seat might as well be in Transylvania. And the more Russell piles on, the more ridiculous this improbable adventure becomes.

Written by Tom Rickman ("Coal Miner's Daughter") and the team of Clifford and Ellen Green ("The Seventh Seal"), the movie begins aboard a New York bus on Christmas Eve. Nurse Maggie O'Connor (Basinger) is on her way home when a fellow traveler--actually an angel--calls her attention to a star rising in the East. It hasn't cast its light upon this Earth for 2,000 years.

Maggie, a lapsed Catholic, declares herself a skeptic and politely dismisses the stranger's message. Any street-smart urbanite would undoubtedly do the same thing, though the choir of a heavenly host might be something of a tip-off. Maggie, however, never connects the dots when her estranged, strung-out sister, Jenna (Angela Bettis), shows up on her doorstep and abandons her autistic newborn.

Little Cody (beatific Holliston Coleman) soon becomes the daughter that divorcee Maggie was unable to have. Despite what doctors tell her, Maggie refuses to believe that Cody has autism. Nevertheless, she places Cody in a Catholic school for the mentally challenged, where the Heaven-sent babe begins to demonstrate magic powers like spinning plates and healing doves.

On Cody's sixth birthday, Jenna suddenly returns with her creepy new husband, Eric (Rufus Sewell), and makes off with the child, leaving Maggie distraught. Eric, the power behind a seemingly benign self-help cult, is clearly up to no good. He is, after all, a former child actor, and we all know that growing up Brady is a living hell.

Maggie is approached by FBI agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits), who's tracking down a serial killer of children and thinks Cody may be the next victim. Another lapsed Catholic, John dropped out of the priesthood to fight occult-related crime. The audience, meanwhile, has already put two and two together to come up with 666. Soon enough the snickering begins.

The final showdown between Good and Evil--complete with computer-generated hellions and heavenly beings--draws nigh. Will the little spinner of plates prevail? Or is Beelzebub going to win this one, heaven forfend? Only the movie's characters doubt the outcome.

Maggie and Cody do have God on their side, along with a support group consisting of a disgruntled cult member (Christina Ricci), a shiny-eyed nun (Lumi Cavazos of "Like Water for Chocolate") and a garrulous religious scholar, Rev. Grissom (Ian Holm). He bucks up Maggie's spirits: "All of us are chosen by God and all of us can stand in darkness against the light," he sayeth.

While Basinger is believably distraught, Sewell seems to have consumed several pounds of ham before tackling the role of her hissing, brimstone-hurling nemesis. Smits, underutilized in a pro forma role, can't shore up the flimsy undertaking, for he's seldom on screen. The same can be said of the stellar backup players, none of whom has a significant role to play.

"Bless the Child," ha. Save the blessings for the innocents who heedeth not this warning.

BLESS THE CHILD(R, 110 minutes) – Contains some profanity, violence and drug use.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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