Bless the Child
review by Elias Savada, 11 August 2000

Thereís an old saying: Bless the Child, Spare the Audience.

Well, it should be an old saying. And youíd wished the producers thought about this before they went through the effort of spending millions on this lame turkey. Taking a closer look at one of the men pulling the financial strings youíll see why this clunker got the green light. Executive puppeteer Mace Neufeld must be going through the same mid-career crisis that afflicted Jerry Bruckheimer. Just as the latterís Coyote Ugly reshaped his Flashdance, Neufeld is returning to a quarter-century-old success (The Omen) hoping to rekindle box office gold after the dregs of The Generalís Daughter, Lost in Space, and Black Dog. Bottom line: Paramountís got deviled egg on its face. The husband and wife scriptwriting team of Clifford and Ellen Green (Baby, Space Camp, The Seventh Sign) get rewrite assistance from Tom Rickman (Coal Minerís Daughter, Truman), but the final dreary effort is just a contrived mishmash of been-there-done-that, devilís-gonna-get-you, cat-and-mouse waste of your time. Effects-laden director Chuck Russell may have scored well overseas with Eraser, his last effort four years ago, but heís still riding the now threadbare coattails of 1994ís comedy crime fantasy The Mask.

Stigmata, End of Days, and now Bless the Days is the latest demonic disaster youíd be wise to avoid. If you need a "Save My Child From Satan" fix, hold off a month of so for the ultimate Linda Blair witch project, The Exorcist, back in enhanced, digitized sound, re-release glory at darkened theaters everywhere. For the next few weeks, top-billed Kim Basingerís newest release is another inadequate choice destined to make a few more bucks (but not many) that her spring feature I Dreamed of Africa. I guess you could double-bill these with the tagline "Bless the beasts and the children," but not many of you will get the twenty-eight-year-old pun. No one should spend good money on either of these films anyway. Thatís a BIG hint for those of you planning to rent or buy (the fools among you) Africa.

Bless the Child starts out with cutesy gothic credits, a supernaturally en-chanting score, and the typical on-every-corner stone gargoyle outside your Manhattan apartment window. If that isnít enough for psychiatric nurse Maggie OíConnor (Basinger) to see the writing on the wall, she has a perfect stranger spouting Christmas celestial seasonings at her about a Star of Lieberman aligning with Santa Claus, who wins the lotto. Well, maybe I missed something with the womanís Caribbean accent (I think she was a Republican, too), but the real fakery starts soon enough: the snowís falling from a cloudless sky. Nine days later Maggieís strung-out, drug addicted sister Jenna (Angela Bettis) dumps her fatherless daughter in the lap of her infertile sibling before heading back to New Yorkís rain swept streets for a six-year bumís vacation. Fast forward three, then six years to find the ever unlucky in love Maggie devoting her very protective affections to raising a semi-autistic Cody (Holliston Coleman) and fighting off rodent-filled visions (or are they just lots of little Mickey Mice).

Meanwhile 6-6-6-year olds are disappearing off the streets of the naked city. The cops are too dumb to realize somethingís rotten at the core, except for FBI agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits), a former seminary student and now Big Apple occult-related crime honcho who seems to know his bible and tattoos. Unfortunately he doesnít realize all the dead/missing youngsters share the same birth date. December 16, 1993óif you care. My first thought was: hey, the cops canít be that dumb not to realize a handful of the cityís youngest have a similar distinctive date with destiny. Well, perhaps they arenít that smart. But Mr. Big Shot G-Man (actually the screenwriters) must have had a complete brain meltdown after the second snatching not to start WARNING parents with kids the same age to be on the lookout for some really nasty people.

Soon we realize Cody has some "special" abilities, like being able to pop tupperware and rattle fine china, an endowment that pops the interest and the ever-wide bug eyes of smirk-faced Eric Stark (Dark Cityís Rufus Sewell), a.k.a. the Dark Side. Though never fully explained, heís seemingly pulled Jenna off the streets through his monstrously successful (according to Leeza Gibbons!) cult-like self-help youth organization, Devil Worship for Dummies (a.k.a. The New Dawn Foundation: send in your children and $400 contributions today) as a means to shanghai her daughter from the flustered aunt. Heís even brought along the Zombie Nosferatu Nanny from Hell (Dimitra Arlys), whoís short a pint or two of affection.

Yeah, itís all a big creepy mess. Ian Holm appears for a minute or two as a wheelchair-bound religious scholar that hardens Maggieís resolve with spiritual battle dialogue that just hardens your stomach (hold back the laughter!). Christina Ricci has a few scenes as a runaway/cult escapee before losing her head waiting for the "F" train at Delancey Street. Occasionally we spot angels holding open subway doors, watering plants, and throwing a line like "A good man is never alone in this world," at a lapsed Catholic here and there. Bums get burnt. Nuns pray. And dentists see patients the day before Easter (huh?). The dialogue turns to drivel, the characters to cardboard, and the plot to a ghoulish stew. The film stumbles into one rut-filled chase after another, with cut-rate CGI vermin eventually filling the night skies above the suburbs of Albany, New York. Surely there are some politicians in the Empire State bold enough the outlaw this type of nonsense.

Directed by:
Chuck Russell

Kim Basinger
Jimmy Smits
Rufus Sewell
Ian Holm
Angela Bettis
Holliston Coleman
Dimitra Arlys
Lumi Cavazos
Christina Ricci

Written by:
Tom Rickman
Clifford Green
Ellen Green

Based on the
Novel by:
Cathy Cash Spellman




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