Bless the Child

MoviesCrimeCrime, Law and JusticeEntertainmentHealthIan Holm

Friday August 11, 2000

     "Bless the Child" opens strongly, as a nurse in a New York hospital (Kim Basinger), on a Christmas Eve, suddenly finds herself with her drug-addicted sister's newborn abandoned child. But from that point its credibility as a thriller of the supernatural starts eroding quickly, to the point that it lapses into an exercise in foolishness.
     Nurse Maggie O'Connor's niece Cody (Holliston Coleman) is mildly autistic and also blessed with "special powers" coveted by a Satanist, Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell). Eric is a onetime child TV star who hit the skids and now operates a nationwide network of outreach centers for troubled, substance-abusing youths ripe for recruitment for the devil's work.
     Stark has his minions slay five New York children all born on the same day--and all left branded with an ominous crooked pitchfork design--until he comes across Cody, who has both the right birth date and the right supernatural gifts in healing, telekinesis, etc., to exploit for his evil purposes.
     Conveniently, Maggie's sister Jenna (Angela Bettis) has fallen into Eric's thrall, and after an absence of six years, she turns up with Eric at Maggie's apartment to claim Cody, whom they swiftly kidnap despite her aunt's valiant struggle to stop them.
     Meanwhile, FBI agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits), an expert in ritual murder, has taken charge of the investigation into the killings. He comes to the aid of Maggie, when he learns Cody shares the same birth date with the slain children. Travis, a brilliant onetime seminarian and devoutly religious, exudes an almost saintly aura along with his strong, reliable presence.
     Yet Maggie, armed with the address of Eric's secret headquarters given her by a would-be defector (Christina Ricci), heads there all by herself without telling Travis--a dumb move if ever there was one but clearly undertaken in the name of projecting Maggie as a fearlessly independent, take-charge modern heroine. When she barely escapes Eric's lair, where he keeps Jenna enslaved with drugs, Maggie, by golly, tries to snatch the kid all over again on her own.
     Directed in blunt, straight-ahead fashion by Chuck Russell, whose credits include "The Mask" and "Eraser," "Bless the Child" was written by Tom Rickman and Clifford & Ellen Green in a hopelessly contrived fashion.
     The film means to give way to a larger commentary on the lack of spirituality in contemporary life and also to assert that the lack of faith in God leads to the belief that true evil does not exist. But for the film to emerge as the potent contemporary parable that it so earnestly wants to be, its plot would have to grow out of the character and conflicts of its people rather than just manipulating them.
     Basinger gives it her considerable all, playing with a conviction the film sorely lacks and repeatedly undercuts. Smits has an easy natural authority, but his role allows him little range. Newcomer Coleman makes a fine impression, and there's solid support from Bettis as the ravaged, distraught Jenna and from Ricci as the brave Cheri. Sewell and Ian Holm (as a renegade priest) ham it up, the only way to go with their parts; if you didn't know otherwise, you might not suspect that both are actors of formidable range, versatility and subtlety.
     "Bless the Child" has the suitably Satanic special effects you would expect of such a film and the all-around sleek production values typical of a major studio release. For all its aborted attempt at allegory as well as suspense and action, it is ultimately most disturbing that Basinger is still unable to find roles that are worthy follow-ups to her Oscar-winning performance in "L.A. Confidential."

Bless the Child, 2000. R, for violence, drug content and brief language. A Paramount Pictures and Icon Productions presentation. Director Chuck Russell. Executive producers Bruce Davey, Robert Rehme and Lis Kern. Screenplay by Tom Rickman and Clifford Green & Ellen Green; based on the novel by Cathy Cash Spellman. Cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr. Editor Alan Heim. Music Christopher Young. Costumes Denise Cronenberg. Visual effects supervisors Glenn Neufeld, Jole Hynek. Production designer Carol Spier. Art director Angela Tortu, Kate Weiss. Set decorator Peter P. Nicolakakos. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. Kim Basinger as Maggie O'Connor. Holliston Coleman as Cody. Jimmy Smits as John Travis. Christina Ricci as Cheri. Rufus Sewell as Eric Stark. Angela Bettis as Jenna. Ian Holm as Rev. Grissom.

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