By Nick Nunziata
August 11, 2000
Our movie microscope is the section where we take the movies which really deserve “special attention” and take them to task with little concern for friendliness and couth. It is not a friendly place, so consider yourself warned.
This film wasn’t on the radar. Starved for a horror flick, it’s a surprise since we are always looking for something to help keep the genre afloat. When it did first appear, it was through a trailer that screamed “LOOK AT ME, I HAVE COMPUTER EFFECTS!” Scream all you want, this one was an obvious assault on all that is good in this world, and I’d have it no other way since it’s always a blast to do a “MICRO”.
The film starts, and you’re thinking that it may be good. You have the cast: Kim Basinger, still in good standing thanks to LA Confidential. Ian Holm, always a good addition to a film. Jimmy Smits, a solid character actor. Then there’s the director, Chuck Russell. He’s done some successful crowd pleasers like The Mask and Eraser, plus he’s Frank Darabont’s buddy, how could he not do well? Then there’s the fact that Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions helped put the film together.
How it go wrong? Easily, and with impressive alacrity.
Kim Basinger, under too much makeup, is visited by a strange creepy person in the doorway of her brownstone in New York.
You see, that’s a spooky image. A shrouded figure holding an infant. Spooky I tell you. Then it’s revealed the imposing beast is just her sister, a strung out junkie who is about as easy to care for as a character as the person who intentionally severed your limbs in middle school. She has this kid, who’s “special” in some way but doesn’t want to care for a child in this tough world.
So she leaves her with Kim and disappears in a fashion even Sean Connery couldn’t aspire to in his “Entrapment” days. Flash forward about five and a half years. Kim, who makes a lot more money as a nurse than my wife does apparently since she can afford an expensive home and numerous medical bills for the kid, has raised this kid well and while the doctors all say the kid is Autistic, she feels otherwise. Perhaps because the child has a rich, layered soul that Basinger has seen through their bonding, or because she saw “End of Days”. Probably the latter.
How special is this kid? Well according to myth, there’s something about the kids born on this particular date of the millennium (yawn) and a power that could lead to the second coming of Jesus or Satan or perhaps Frank Langella from “The Ninth Gate”. How do her powers manifest themselves? Levitation? The gift of flight? The ability to castrate bobcats from 20 paces? Nope, she can spin things with her mind. Toy trucks, plates, and the snow inside a snow globe. To be honest, if these are the powers of a supreme being, I want a refund on my immortal soul.
Now, this could have been an intimate portrait of the relationship between a parent figure and a gifted child like “The Sixth Sense” or “Deep Throat IX” but instead it opts to ape films like “End of Days” and be a grand spectacle. Minus the grand and the spectacle, of course.
Who is Satan’s surrogate? Who will provide the menace required to keep the audience in fear? Who has proven that they could carry a film that tests the very fabric of ones’ resolve? Well, they found their man in Rufus Sewell. He previously successfully kept me near sickness throughout the overrated and underhated “Dark City”. Here he plays the leader of a popular cult that operates under the guise of a self help organization (don’t they all?). Our first glimpse of him is on TV in an interview with Leeza Gibbons, and you have to wonder if Gibbons knew that her name would be attached to a Satan worshipping fiend. I hope not. I’d laugh my pants off if she showed up at the premiere expecting to see her show emblazoned on the big screen in a positive way only to see it used as an engine to bring Satan (AC: -4, HP: 211) to the masses. Anyhow, Sewell effectively scares us for all the wrong reasons. His face seems alive, eyes living in their sockets and expressions you don’t see on an actor. It’s creepy, but he has so little presence onscreen you wonder what someone else could have done in the role. He also goes from passive and friendly to menacing in a second and there’s no real reason. He’s obviously the bad guy from frame one, so why try to give him a character arc, especially a bad one. That said, he does know how to scream “JUMP” very well, with requisite amounts of spittle scattering like roaches with the light on.
We’ll now discuss why this movie is more than worthy of the illustrious MOVIE MICROSCOPE treatment.
Ok, the performances are overly dramatic and sappy, but that’s something we can overlook. The music is way too generic and tries to create emotion by rehashing anything it can in order to fill the numerous gaps in atmosphere and tension. A vain effort. You have subject matter that’s been done TO DEATH.
All these detriments are not the reason there’s a microscope for the movie. It takes a special film to get this treatment, at least now in the post 2000 CHUD sewer. From here on, a movie microscope means it’s one of those movies you see at midnight with your closest friends and enjoy the badness. RIP IT A NEW ASS. Laugh. Count the things that are silly and pointless. The last few films I can think of that fit this tall order are BATTLEFIELD EARTH, EYE OF THE BEHOLDER, and THE HAUNTING.
So you have this film careening off the rails. Little bumps along the way: 1. A scene where the girl is at daycare using her mind to rotate a toy. There’s one shot that caused me to laugh out loud where the shot has either been looped, causing a quick but funny effect, or digitally manipulated. Either way, funny. Remember, Chuck Russell’s the same guy who did the fun shot of the door digitally sailing over Arnold’s head in “Eraser”. 2. The most obvious “We have this person decapitated here just so we could have a scene where their head rolls off and stuns the heroine” even though the victim’s attackers weren’t using any sort of an edged weapon. 3. The set design of Sewell’s headquarters. I have never seen an instance of set design that screamed THIS IS A MOVIE to me. Either a library or high school cafeteria was “converted” into the den of corporate evil simply by placing a few pamphlets and pictures around. I’d have been surprised ZERO if a “Go Spartans” or “Blood Drive next Wednesday” sign was left behind by the obviously preoccupied crew. 4. The character who appears out of nowhere just to allow for a good guy to die and the policeman whose only purpose in life is to be fodder for the villains and 5. The evil cadre of children with hate. The forces of evil are apparently from the Kathy Lee Gifford school of hiring since their main tough guys are little kids whose casting call must have read “Need kids with piercings and maybe a cloudy eye to personify soulless evil. Red hair a plus.”. They have to come from the same ring of hell where Kevin Smith’s hockey stick wielding brats came from for “Dogma”. Among their many talents of menace that we discover? CROSS DRESSING.
I could go on for days, but I’m sure you have a lunch break coming, so let me get to the MAJOR GRIPE of the film, and it’s a doozy. Now, if SPOILERS freak you out about BLESS THE CHILD, then you should power down the computer and find someone to drive you to an asylum. Don’t pass go, and certainly don’t drive yourself as you’re in no shape to pilot a vehicle any more complicated than a Big Wheel. You need to spend some quiet time with Nurse Ratchet and it wouldn’t hurt to get an appointment with Dr. Herbert West for good measure. The main gripe is with the films’ special FX, primarily the purpose for them.
If you’ve seen the trailer for this film, then you saw one of their “Money Shots”, of an irritated woman who turns into Medusa (AC: 1, HP: 89, saving throw against being turned to stone required) when our heroes escape on a subway. Where’s the problem? Well, what does this unholy transformation do other than provide a computer artist something to do between UNREAL tournaments? It does NOTHING. She doesn’t gain the power to tear the door off the subway car. It does not provide her with brute strength to smash the window apart to snatch her pink, fleshy prize. It simply happens because it’s a computer effect. That feeble, pointless She-Bitch need not worry. She has COMPANY.
There are several CGI beasties that exist only because the hard drive had space and the PC had RAM to spare. There’s a horde of pointless and harmless flying demons that would be menacing if they did more than hover above the obviously far more powerful 8 year olds with attitude. They seem to like their spectator position because they show up a few times just to BE THERE. It’s almost as if the film was made as entertainment for us AND these beasts, because we have EXACTLY THE SAME AMOUNT OF INTERACTION WITH THE CHARACTERS AS THEY DO. Maybe even more, since I asked the film a few times to stop hating me which qualifies as me AT LEAST TRYING to participate in the proceedings. So, you have the harmless Medusa as well as the flying horned spectators. The best I have saved for last.
If you were doing a film with theological overtones, you can either ally yourselves with the religious folks or make a film that’ll piss them off. They really thought this film would offend nobody since the girl obviously has some holiness in her. They made a mistake.
There are five characters in this film who are even more harmless in here than the ones I’ve mentioned above. They are three angels, Satan and God. If you’re going to make wimps out of any characters in your film, it’s a good rule of thumb to not make GOD and SATAN your choices.
Satan makes his appearance late in the film, and for the only time other than when the Paramount logo first appeared did a trace of hope for this film surface in my head. It died quickly. During the films’ climactic scene set during a ritual that could have been lifted from “End of Days”, “The Ninth Gate”, or “Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom”, a mass of computer generated rats enter the chapel and hightail it to a throne of bones waiting at the alter (probably stolen from the set of “The Sword and the Sorcerer”) and as they gather up there they form a figure. Satan. A horde of rats form the body of Satan right there all for us! A privilege indeed. EXCEPT.
Even sooner than he appeared, Satan disappears! Why? We could speculate that he looked at his watch and saw he was late for a massage or late to pick up a shift at the pit of burning souls. Maybe he saw the script and retreated to the safer confines of a Danzig video or a taping of “The Real World”. Either way, the Prince of Darkness wimped out. Why? Perhaps the PC of the computer artist had an “Invalid Page Fault” or simply was out of system resources. Either way, the final result is an appearance from THE DEVIL that makes E.T.’s appearance in EPISODE ONE look like a David Lean epic.
So, Satan leaves before he can contribute scares, chills, or even a few jokes about the economy. What about Heaven’s representatives?
Well, three glowing angels show up to save the day. Hooray for the good guys? Nah. Just before they’re about to kick some cultist ass, Jimmy Smits and his police buddies arrive to shoot villains. The angels see this, and decide to try to get home in time to beat traffic because despite all their glowing and shimmering they are about as effective as bug spray on a pack of wolves. Now, God doesn’t make an appearance per se, but his presence is felt in a pointless scene where the girl “saves” a homeless man from self immolation. It’s touching until she rounds the corner just as the villain tosses a lighter onto him, sending charred bits of homeless flesh to the four winds. The filmmakers have done the near impossible: ALIENATED CHRISTIANS AND SATANISTS IN ONE FILM! Nobody is safe from their sledgehammer-like subtlety.
There’s so much more, but I think you get the point. It takes a Herculean effort to make a film with Christina Ricci (among my least favorite performers on two legs) in which she isn’t even in the top 20 things I hate most about it.
It’s ass. Absolute ass, but it’s ass served on a plate that is too much fun to hate to avoid. Next Friday, if this film hasn’t been jettisoned from screens with a speed that would make Basket Case 3 jealous, get some pals and howl at this pile of pants. You’ll thank me.