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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Bless the Child (2000)
1 Star

Directed by Chuck Russell
Cast: Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, Holliston Coleman, Rufus Sewell, Angela Bettis, Christina Ricci, Ian Holm.
2000 – 105 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence, gore, profanity, and drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 12, 2000.

There's no easier way to say it than "Bless the Child" is a very bad movie. The film, directed by Chuck Russell (1987's "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors"), joins an increasing number of recent religious-themed horror pictures that include 1999's "Stigmata" and "End of Day," and while neither of those were cause for any sort of praise, at least they knew what genre they were in and how to keep the pacing actually moving. No such luck with "Bless the Child," which gets off to a shaky start with a heartrendingly earnest scene between two sisters (one of which is a drug addict), and then goes downhill from there as the proceedings become buried deeper and deeper in inane and preposterous plotting.

Maggie O'Connor (Kim Basinger) is a lonely, divorced nurse living alone in a New York apartment building when, a few days before Christmas, finds her younger sister Jenna (Angela Bettis), whom she hasn't seen in a long time, at her doorstep with a newborn baby. Strung out on drugs, Jenna runs away before Maggie can try to get her help, and is left to raise the child as a surrogate mother and an aunt.

Switching forward in time, six-year-old Cody (Holliston Coleman) has been diagnosed with Borderline Autism, but Maggie is beginning to suspect she may not have that at all, but some genuinely unique gift. In the school yard one day, Cody seemingly mends a seriously hurt bird, which eventually flies away from her hands. And she always seems to be talking to unseen entities, a 'la "The Sixth Sense."

Enter Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell), head of the New Dawn Foundation, a recovered drug abuser who has put all of his excess strength into helping others who have lost their way in life. Despite being a well-publicized figure, FBI agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits) has not yet been able to piece together the complex puzzle that links Eric directly with a series of gruesome child murders that have been committed recently in the city. And as Black Easter (Easter Eve), which is the day Satan is to be reawakened, slowly rolls around, it is up to Eric, who has now hooked up with Jenna, to find Cody and brainwash her into believing in the forces of evil.

Why, might you ask, do they really need Cody? Hell if I know. It's fairly safe to say that screenwriters Thomas Richman, Clifford Green, and Ellen Green are the only ones who could ever possibly make sense of this silly hogwash. "Bless the Child" is an admittedly difficult film to summarize because it is so marred in ludicrousness and overplotting that, to attempt making any sort of explanation just leads to more diw-witted twists that need to be clarified.

Academy Award winner Kim Basinger (1997's "L.A. Confidential") is an actress who has been widely criticized in the past for her questionable talents, but even before her Oscar win in 1998, I have always liked her. Basinger brings a genuine honesty to her film roles that not many actors can fully attest to, and can do comedy just as well as drama. Basinger must have known the trouble she had gotten herself into with this picture, then, since she is too often overly sincere in her line readings, or looks to have just awoken from a deep slumber. Either way, Basinger has turned in one of her most mediocre performances to date, in, undoubtedly, one of her weakest films.

Almost everyone plays second fiddle to Basinger's Maggie, and not many supporting players manage to stand out from the crowd. Young Holliston Coleman, however, is a real find, and dodges all dangers of becoming an unctuous child actor. Rufus Sewell (1998's "Dark City") is appropriately threatening and makes for a nasty villain, but he is too promising of an actor to be wasting his time wading through such inconsequential material. The same goes for Angela Bettis (1999's "Girl, Interrupted"), as Jenna, and Christina Ricci (1999's "Sleepy Hollow"), who does a professional job with her five minutes of screen time, and then gets out while the going is still good. Ricci is a fine actress, one of the more promising of her generation, so why she chose to appear as a drug addict whose only purpose is to explain the plot to us through frivolous dialogue remains a mystery--unless her no-doubt meaty paycheck played a role in getting her cast. Meanwhile, Jimmy Smits is a crushing bore without anything of interest to do or say.

"Bless the Child" is an amazing feat for a big-budget Hollywood horror-thriller. The movie is overblown and highly unsatisfying, completely dull and visually dreary throughout, without any provocative characters, plot developments, or visual effects (which, by the way, look cheesy), and only one suspenseful sequence (set atop a bridge). Director Chuck Russell may have done occasionally respectable work in the past, but his luck has finally run out here. Russell proves to have no sense of how to film a scene and make it work, and drags everything out to the point of genuine nausea.

Rule #1 in the annals of Horror Movie Filmmaking 101 is, "Don't make a boring horror movie." Rule #2 is, "Don't make an unscary horror movie." Rule #3 is, "The storyline must be brought to life in a way that will make the viewer believe in what is occurring." Rule #4 is, "Some visual filmmaking flair must be present." And Rule #5 is, "If you realize you've failed on Rules #1-4, for the love of God, do not unleash the now-so-called 'horror' movie upon the unsuspecting public!" "Bless the Child" falls into the trap of Rules #1-4, but as proven by the release of the film, as well as this review, director Russell didn't have the good sense to pay attention to the most vital rule of all. I think we all know which one that is.

©2000 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman