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'Bless the Child'

'Bless the Child' is an all-star hack horror show

Friday, August 11, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Been there, seen that.

'Bless The Child'

RATING: R for violence, drug content and brief language.

STARRING: Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, Rufus Sewell.

DIRECTOR: Chuck Russell

WEB SITE: www.blessthe

CRITIC'S CALL: 1 1/2 stars


If you caught "End of Days" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gabriel Byrne, that may be your reaction upon watching "Bless the Child." And Jimmy Smits left "NYPD Blue" so he could play ... an FBI agent who joins forces with the NYPD? Granted, he is a onetime seminary student who is now an expert in the occult, but still.

"Bless the Child," a supernatural thriller, stars Kim Basinger as a psychiatric nurse named Maggie whose drug-addicted sister Jenna (Angela Bettis) arrives on her Brooklyn doorstep bearing an infant named Cody. The baby girl, she suspects, is not normal.

Jenna disappears for six years, during which time Maggie enrolls Cody (Holliston Coleman) into a Catholic school for special-needs children. Doctors suspect Cody may have a form of autism that allows her to function at a high level. We see that she has mysterious powers -- she miraculously heals a bird with a broken neck and can set toys or snow globes spinning.

A band of devil worshippers suspect that Cody is the chosen one, a heavenly child born once in 2,000 years who must be converted from the side of the angels. She must become one of Lucifer's followers -- or die, as other children have. Leading that band is a self-help guru named Eric (Rufus Sewell) who has insinuated himself into Maggie's world.

She finds herself struggling to save Cody, herself, her sister, a young woman (Christina Ricci) who once was an acolyte of Eric's, and pretty much the rest of the world.

"Bless the Child," which is laden with ominous shots of gargoyles, flying demons, religious symbols and an early pose of Maggie and Cody as Madonna and child (with Christmas tree star in the background), is neither terribly scary nor thought-provoking. It has a couple of cheap stunts designed to lift the patrons out of their seats like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist," but not much else.

All too often it seems like a horror movie, as when knitting needles are plunged into someone's eyes and Maggie keeps acting like the teen-agers spoofed in "Scream." For too long, she ignores the only person who might help her and tries to battle the malicious minions on her own.

Ian Holm is trotted out for a cameo as a Jesuit priest, inexplicably censured by the Vatican, who preaches that evil still exists in the world. And the nuns who populate "Bless the Child" are dressed as if they were transported here from the 1960s -- full habit and wimples.

Basinger works well with children, as she proved in "I Dreamed of Africa," and Smits could play a cop or FBI agent in his sleep. Sewell, however, is sort of a second-rate villain. Young Holliston is fine as Cody, although you have to wonder about parents who would permit her to be cast here.

"Bless the Child," based on a novel by Cathy Cash Spellman, manages to take the age-old battle between good and evil and turn it into a hack horror show. Unless director Chuck Russell ("Nightmare on Elm Street III," "The Mask," "Eraser") can exorcise your memory of other movies, you may feel like it's devilish deja vu.

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