Rated R - Running Time: 1:47 - Released 8/11/00

You know, you give someone an Academy Award, and suddenly she thinks she can act. Kim Basinger, who got the 1997 supporting actress nod for L.A. Confidential and followed up with her gut-wrenchingly inept performance in I Dreamed Of Africa, is on hand to make us all cringe again, but this time the concept is on an even par with her inability. A lame retread of last years God-vs.-Devil film End Of Days, which was not a particularly good movie in and of itself, Bless The Child is an unholy waste of time, money, and celluloid. Not only is Basinger unable to generate the slightest trace of sympathy with her wooden performance, but Rufus Sewell, this year's model of Satanic evil, is about as scary as an angry uncle. (You know he's mad, but he doesn't really have any significant power over you.) Meanwhile, 7-year-old Holliston Coleman, who plays the titular child, isn't really asked to do anything but look scared (she only has about 5 lines). The only actor able to convince is Jimmy Smits as the seminary-student-turned-FBI-officer, who delivers a modicum of believablility playing the same reliable good guy he has portrayed many times over.

The film, written by Thomas Rickman and Clifford and Ellen Green, based on the novel by Cathy Cash Spellman, and directed by Chuck Russell (The Mask), opens during Christmas time in New York City, when we are shown and told that there is a special star in the sky just like the one in Bethlehem all those centuries ago. Maggie O'Connor (Basinger) is a divorced psychiatric nurse unable to have children, who is visited by her heroin-addict sister Jenna (Angela Bettis). It seems that Jenna is able to have children; in fact, she's got one with her, and after a few terse verbal exchanges, she leaves the child in Maggie's care. As little Cody grows (eventually played by Coleman), it becomes clear she is different, and doctors attribute the girl's head-banging, seldom-speaking behavior to autism. She is enrolled in a Catholic "special needs" school where she begins to make progress.

When Cody is six years old, however, Jenna returns with her new husband, the famous drug-rehab guru Eric Stark (Sewell), and the couple demands custody of the child. Naturally, after caring for Cody for six years, Maggie is reluctant to give her up to a couple of cleaned-up druggies. Especially since Eric has horns and a pitchfork. Just kidding. As it turns out, Cody is a new Christ, and Eric is a representative of Satan who is attempting to capture her and turn her to his demonic ways. But the kid has difficulty deciding, since her uncanny ability to spin plates could land her a lucrative job in the circus.

If this film were just written badly, or just acted badly, it might have some value. But here we have a double negative. Basinger and company seem unfortunately suited to the hackneyed material, and director Russell's inclusion of a few hallucinatory bats and rats is not enough to make it worthwhile. *

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews

See FilmQuips Archive