Re-enforcing their stuck-in-B-list status, Kim Basinger and Jimmy Smits star this week in a laughably gothic second-coming chiller, "Bless the Child," which once again commandeers Catholic dogma as a jumping-off point for a half-witted, high-gloss horror movie.
Like "Stigmata" and "End of Days" before it, "Bless the Child" invents its own "previously undiscovered" Biblical mythology to propel its story about a battle for the soul of an abandoned 6-year-old girl (Holliston Coleman) named Cody, who -- it is implied -- is the reincarnation of Christ.
Kim Basinger plays her aunt Maggie, a New York City psychiatric nurse who's strung-out younger sister (Angela Bettis, "Girl Interrupted") drops the infant girl on her doorstep and disappears. Maggie -- an agnostic, as all religious chiller heroes are at first -- raises Cody and gradually begins to realize (much more gradually than the audience) that the child has supernatural gifts. Rocking back and forth while ain't-it-eerie monk chants reverberate on the soundtrack, Cody makes plates spin with telekinetic power, lights candles just by staring at them intently and brings back to life pigeons that smack into windows.
Meanwhile, a serial killer is on the lose in Manhattan, performing ritual murders on kids with Cody's birthday, and we're treated to the abduction of one of them by a menacing bald guy with beady eyes, a black van and a generic troubled punker from central casting as his sidekick.
When Cody's mom turns up again on the arm of Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell) -- a rich and famous, demonic-looking self-help cult leader -- demanding to take Cody back, it's no surprise to discover her dubious new husband is connected to the kidnap-killings, and even less of a surprise to discover he's a servant of -- you guessed it -- Satan.
How anyone can keep a straight face while making a movie like this is beyond me. The loophole-riddled story only stays afloat because Stark is too stupid to just off Aunt Maggie after kidnapping Cody, leaving her free to mess up his plans for converting the little girl so his master can take over the world -- or something like that. (When the Satanists finally do try to kill Maggie, it is, of course, in ridiculously complex ways.)
The dialogue is embarrassing ("She will be ours," Stark curses at the sky after a demonstration of Cody's saintliness). Stark's minions are antiquated stereotypes (Cody's evil nanny, who kills people with knitting needles, looks like a dried-up, Victorian Morticia Adams). And director Chuck Russell ("Eraser," "The Mask") shamelessly pads "Bless the Child" with every hackneyed demonic and religious symbol he can muster, including pitchfork tattoos, gratuitous gargoyles, demons generated with comically cheap CGI effects and the return of the Star of Bethlehem.
The movie even draws to a close with a fire-and-brimstone ritual sacrifice at a spooky, boarded-up mansion.
Coming off an overly-earnest performance in "I Dreamed of Africa," Basinger continues to prove her Oscar win for "L.A. Confidential" was a fluke, bringing a lot of whining but zero charisma to the lead role here.
Smits -- playing an FBI agent (and former seminary student) who believes Maggie's Satanic tale -- has something of an excuse for appearing in "Bless the Child." Trying to break away from television, he's landed unceremoniously on the David Caruso career track. After this flick, he should be crawling back to TV soon enough.
As for the presence of proven talents like Ian Holm (as a rebel ex-priest "who was censured by the Vatican") and Christina Ricci (as a heroin-addicted street punk and Stark cult escapee), I can only assume Paramount Pictures is holding over them some pretty impressive blackmail material.
Run time: 107 mins
Box Office USA: $28.1M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures, Munich Film Partners & Company (MFP) GHS Productions, Icon Entertainment International
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 3%
Fresh: 3 Rotten: 109
IMDB: 5.0 / 10
Director: Chuck Russell
Starring: Kim Basinger as Maggie O'Connor, Angela Bettis as Jenna, Holliston Coleman as Cody, Rufus Sewell as Eric Stark, Christina Ricci as Cheri Post, Jimmy Smits as Agemt John Travis, Michael Gaston as Det. Frank Bugatti, Lumi Cavazos as Sister Rosa, Dimitra Arliss as Dahnya, Eugene Lipinski as Stuart, Anne Betancourt as Maria, Ian Holm as Reverend Grissom, Helen Stenborg as Sister Joseph, Matthew Lemche as New Dawn Kid at Van, Dan Warry-Smith as New Dawn Kid