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Godsend

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  • Noel Vera
    Godawful Noel Vera Nick Hamm s Godsend opens with a quick sketch of a happy family-- father Paul Duncan (Greg Kinnear), mother Jessie (Rebecca Romijn-
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 16, 2004
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      Godawful

      Noel Vera

      Nick Hamm's "Godsend" opens with a quick sketch of a happy family--
      father Paul Duncan (Greg Kinnear), mother Jessie (Rebecca Romijn-
      Stamos), and son Adam (Cameron Bright); within the picture's first
      ten minutes, the son is killed in a horrifying car accident. Cut to
      the funeral, and a Dr. Richard Wells (Robert De Niro) approaching
      the parents in a manner that should have had Jessie fumbling for her
      pepper spray--apparently Dr. Wells has a technique for cloning a
      whole human being out cell samples, but it would only be a matter of
      72 hours before Adam's cells are no longer viable (hence his hurried
      sales pitch), so he needs an immediate answer.

      Paul and Jessie bite; they are relocated to another town, where
      Jessie gives birth to a bouncing baby boy. The new Adam (Bright
      again) grows past the age of eight, about the time the original Adam
      died, and trouble starts popping up: the boy undergoes trance
      states, exhibits erratic, even dangerously psychotic, behavior, and
      apparently sees and talks to some dead boy named 'Zachary.' Dr.
      Wells hasn't told the poor parents everything there is to know about
      their cloned child, and now they have to deal with the consequences
      of their decision...

      And so, unfortunately, do we. Questions pop--like unwanted mushrooms-
      -to mind: Wells seems aware that his 'experiment' has gone wrong
      before in the past; why doesn't he come up with a more convincing
      explanation for what's happening to the child ("we don't know" not
      being all that reassuring)? When Paul starts taking matters into his
      own hands--threatening to get a second opinion, for example--the
      most Dr. Wells manages in response is whisper to Jessie that she
      should "rein in" her husband (you can't help thinking "neuter" is
      what he really had in mind). When the boy starts misbehaving you
      wonder why they give him such free rein about the house and
      countryside, especially since they had already lost a child through
      an accident (I, for one, would have insisted on picking him up after
      school, instead of trusting him to bike home every day). They ponder
      their problems with the child, think gloomy, anxious thoughts, then
      suddenly look around and wonder where on earth the boy has gone;
      you'd think with the money they seem to be making (the houses they
      live in are almost uniformly magnificent), they might afford a live-
      in nurseĀ…

      We also never find out why (skip this paragraph if you plan to watch
      the movie) Adam only starts acting up at the age of eight (do Wells'
      genes operate on a timetable?), and what's the whole point of Wells'
      exercise if the resulting offspring looks like Paul and not him--
      what's he hoping to pass on, his pyromaniac tendencies, perhaps? Not
      a lot of science in this movie about cloning, and what little there
      is is unconvincing, at best; the trashier, far more
      entertaining "Boys from Brazil" makes a better case of possibly
      coming true.

      I've always liked Greg Kinnear, despite the fact that he
      consistently appears in projects that are beneath him ("Dear God;"
      the "Roman Holiday" remake; "As Good as It Gets"); he has the gift
      of keeping one's sympathies, no matter what he's required to do or
      say onscreen. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos I've only started to like,
      largely on the strength of Brian de Palma's "Femme Fatale," but hers
      is the kind of straight all-American housewife roles Anne Archer
      used to win Best Actress Oscars for; there's no spark to her
      character, possibly because there's little there to strike sparks
      with. Cameron Bright has an effectively serene demon-child stare,
      but he's stuck playing a boy seemingly "possessed" by another boy
      whose character simply doesn't make sense (someone at one point
      describes him as "evil," which isn't much of a help).

      Robert de Niro continues his campaign to improve his box-office
      appeal and simultaneously trash whatever respect people used to have
      for him as an actor. His Dr. Wells is essentially a Mephistopheles
      role that requires just a little charisma, just a little seductive
      style (Michael Caine does this sort of thing in his sleep); De Niro
      mumbles his lines mostly while turning or walking away from the one
      he's talking to, as if trying to avoid the embarrassment of actually
      being recognized in the role; for the climactic confrontation he
      adds a touch of Max Cady belligerence, swinging away with a heavy
      candlestick as if he were still Al Capone with a bat in "The
      Untouchables."

      The story (written by Mark Bomback), is essentially "The Bad Seed"
      or "The Omen" brought up-to-date with a few quick references to
      cloning thrown in; Nick Hamm, a reputed theater director, shows a
      total lack of skill in filmmaking by using shock cuts, loud noises
      and standard-issue "boo!" moments to try keep the audience awake and
      distracted from the threadbare script (judging from all the notices,
      he hasn't done a very good job). Can you imagine what Roman Polanski-
      -who did "Rosemary's Baby" still perhaps the definitive film on the
      subject--might have done with this material, or Brian de Palma who,
      if all else fails, can plaster the cracks in the script with style
      and visual panache?

      The ending is peerlessly silly, with a climax that takes place,
      alternately, in a basement, a church, and a shack in the forest
      (gratuitous nod to "The Blair Witch Project" duly noted),
      dissipating the tension accordingly; a coda that strikes just the
      right note of (probably unintentional) campy portentousness; and
      reportedly a DVD that includes four of seven alternate endings, the
      most interesting of which (unfilmed and un-included in the disc) has
      the child killing all the lead characters and remaining the lone
      survivor. Aside from the obvious advice--if you really need to see
      this, go rent the DVD and imagine your favorite conclusion tacked on-
      -the number of alternate endings (Mr. Hamm reportedly prefers the
      most pessimistic one) seem to indicate that the filmmakers hardly
      knew what they were doing, and chose the most awkward version they
      could possibly put together.

      (Originally published in Businessworld, 9/10/04)

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)
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