2 stars (out of 4)
You can almost set your watch by it.
Whenever a movie climbs up on a high moral pulpit, you can almost guarantee that it'll come crashing down in 90 minutes, when the filmmakers sacrifice plausible drama to deliver an ethical or religious maxim.
The genetics thriller "Godsend" doesn't avoid this tumble, and it's a shame. Director Nick Hamm sculpts a tight, handsomely crafted movie that's notable for its simple scares and skilled camerawork. Form, however, loses to heavy-handed content in this thinly veiled morality play.
Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos star as Paul and Jessie Duncan, parents who lose their 8-year-old son Adam (Cameron Bright) in a freak car accident. But when Dr. Richard Wells (Robert De Niro) offers them the chance to get their son back with an in vitro cloning process, they uproot their lives and move to the country near Dr. Wells' Godsend Institute.
If the name "Godsend" wasn't already a giveaway for screenwriter Mark Bomback's religious overtones, the fact that the movie's climax takes place in church will certainly remove any doubt. (And isn't Adam a biblical name?)
When Adam 2.0 reaches his eighth birthday - the age at which his genetic twin died - the nightmares begin. A boy name Zachary haunts his violent dreams, and Adam starts to black out. He also becomes a discipline problem at school, and other kids are afraid of him. "I've always had a feeling somehow we wouldn't get away with this," Jessie says, adding another shade of black to the foreshadowing.
De Niro, stately and unassuming as Dr. Wells, hands in a fine performance, as does the rest of the cast.
A cinematic mixture of "The Omen" and "The Boys From Brazil," "Godsend" circumvents the nature/nurture debate. Instead, writer Bomback joins Michael Crichton in that age-old argument that just because we can clone living things, that doesn't mean we should. (Bomback and director Hamm even seem to give a nod to "Jurassic Park," making Adam's favorite toy a dinosaur.)
There's very little ethical gray area in Bomback's screenplay, given its horror conceits, but the debate is certainly worth exploration - though not in any movie ending in a creepy tin shed in the woods.
Downright scary in some places, "Godsend" might be more potent if it wasn't watered down by religious trope predictability. Instead, "Godsend" sways violently on its pulpit until it nosedives into the first row of pews. I mean, theater seats.
Directed by Nick Hamm; written by Mark Bomback; photographed by Kramer Morgenthau; production design by Doug Kraner; edited by Niven Howie, Steve Mirkovich; music by Brian Tyler; produced by Marc Butan, Sean O'Keefe, Cathy Schulman. A Lions Gate Films release; opens Friday, April 30. Running time: 1:40. MPAA rating: PG-13 (violence including frightening images, a scene of sexuality and some thematic material).
Paul Duncan - Greg Kinnear
Jessie Duncan - Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
Adam Duncan - Cameron Bright
Richard Wells - Robert De Niro