IT AT AMAZON: CLICK
STUDIO: Lions Gate
TIME: 102 minutes
Sometime within the last two years, an executive at Lions Gate Films was presented with the concept that had to look good on paper: Godsend, a psychological thriller (always movie gold when done right) about a young couple who lose their eight-year-old son to a freak accident, are offered a second chance from a renowned doctor to clone the kid (timely, controversial…good, good), and later, when the cloned kid grows to the same age he was when he initially died, weird shit starts to happen (sounds like a winner). The executive naturally asks who they have in it. He’s told the director is this British guy, Hamm, who’s worked in theatre and a few TV films (not the best way to start, but what the hell, someone took a chance with Sam Mendes once). They’ve got Greg Kinnear (known for usually giving solid work…okay, fine), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (hot former model who can actually emote…looks damn good in blue scales…right, good); oh and we know a guy who knows a guy who got us Mr. Robert De Niro (We got Bobby D! Brilliant! Let’s do it!). Finally the executive asks about the script. Well, uh…did I mention we have De Niro?
And there you have the premise for Godsend.
In these times of heated debate over the nature of cloning, genetic engineering and the future of man’s control over his own destiny, Godsend would seem to be the perfect vehicle to incorporate the huge potential of this on-going controversy into the tried-and-true formula of a psychological thriller. Recently, the issue of cloning/eugenics has been used with varying degrees of success in different types of media, from the successful (TV’s Dark Angel…aahh, Jessica, still got love for you, baby), to the passable (the feature The Sixth Day), to the quagmire of the ‘90s Spider-Man comic book titles’ cloning saga (don’t get me started on the Scarlet Spider, Kaine, Spidercyde, etc.). So where does Godsend rate among all these? That’s difficult to say because once presented with the DVD, you find that there’s not one film in the packaging, but five. Allow me to explain.
The main special feature in this otherwise bare bones DVD set is nearly an hour’s worth of alternate endings, four to be exact. Once you watch the theatrical cut of the movie, and then the alternate endings, you find that this is a film that was either done by committee, jumped into production without a concrete script, or tested so badly that the filmmakers felt the need to bring Mr. De Niro and company back to shoot every idea for an ending that stuck to the wall. More on that later.
Basically, Godsend seeks to answer an age-old dilemma for anyone who has ever lost anybody close to them: if you had the chance to bring them back, would you? That’s what faces Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, who play Paul and Jesse Duncan, a young married couple with a vibrant eight-year-old named Adam. When Adam plays chicken with a Chevy a day after his eighth birthday (in a scene that’s telegraphed almost before we ever see it), the devastated couple is approached by Mr. De Niro’s Dr. Richard Wells, a cutting edge geneticist and fertility expert who makes house calls at funeral homes.
Sadly, this is as close as any of us will get to Rebecca’s eggs.
Borrowing from his Vito Corleone character, he makes them an offer they can’t refuse. They can either spend the rest of their lives mourning their dead son, or, through a new procedure in cloning, they can have Adam back exactly as he was, pre-Camaro facial. So the Duncans drop their old lives, move from the inner-city to Rockwelltown, America, get a three story Victorian, new jobs, and a second chance to raise their son. Hell, that’d be a good deal even without the kid. Nevertheless, clone-boy is born nine months later, complete with the same name as the original, and the Duncans settle into their new lives and their second chance.
Jump eight years into the future. Clone-Adam is the same age he was when he died the first time, life for the Duncans is essentially good, and Wells is hanging around to keep an eye on things, kind of like the hovering rich uncle everyone wishes they had. It’s not too long, however, before Clone-Adam goes through clone-puberty, which is to say that he becomes a creepy little shit. He starts seeing things, becoming distant from everyone, except for Wells, and fantasizing about going Ed Gein on his parents. The changes prompt Duncan to investigate his son’s strange behavior, despite Wells’ assurances that Adam’s problems are just night terrors, and his wife’s reluctance to rock the boat. Things come to a head when Clone-Adam essentially turns into an eight-year-old Sybil and he uses the local bully’s head for batting practice down by the local creek. Duncan then has to confront Wells with the truth, get his skull cracked open in a church for his efforts, and then get home in seemingly no-time to try to save his wife from hatchet boy. Without spoiling the ending (the theatrical ending anyway) too much, the answer to the mystery of Clone-Adam is simply that when Dr. Wells slipped the bun into Rebecca’s sumptuous oven, he changed the dough. Make of that what you will.
Now in hindsight, the entire second act is pretty by-the-numbers in terms of figuring out the mystery of what’s happening to Clone-Adam. But I can’t even front, because although I should have seen the answer coming a mile away, I didn’t. I suppose I was still trying to figure out exactly what type of film the director was going for: The Sixth Sense or The Good Son. The film is directed ably enough by Hamm, and there’s fairly good atmosphere, even though there were extended sequences with the kid that felt like a Pet Sematary (don’t pardon the pun) clone.
I half expected Fred Gwynne to jump out and tell the Duncans that “sometimes, dead’s better.” You know that the kid came back wrong, you just don’t know if it’s supernatural, psychological, or science gone bad. But I will gives props to how they presented Cameron Bright, the kid who played Adam/Clone-Adam. With a chili bowl haircut and a smarmy smirk that made you want to jump through the screen and not spare the rod with this kid, I was completely convinced that this wasn’t the same Adam that the Duncans lost.
Ultimately, however, Godsend doesn’t succeed because the actors were simply stuck in material that let them down. The reason that it let them down is because, as you’ll discover when watching the special features, the ending they settled on is one of several they shot, re-shot, re-cut, re-thought, re-jected, whatever. It wasn’t even the best possible ending, which the director and writer even admit.
When you have as many different endings as Godsend had, the first two thirds of the film become nebulous at best, which is something that the writer also admits somewhat in commentary. I can’t understand why they didn’t see the perfect ending staring them in the face: Romijn-Stamos in blue paint and a wet t-shirt giving the kid a post-natal abortion with a REALLY big gun. Problem solved.
4.0 out of 10
Not the real issue with this disc. Whole flick was shot in wintry vistas and a dimly lit Victorian; but transfer is pretty clean, plus it’s widescreen.
7.0 out of 10
Also not really an issue. Dolby 5.1 Surround. Voices are clear enough, if a bit low at times.
7.5 out of 10
HERE’S the issue. Most of the Special Features, what there are of them on this disc, are easily forgettable. There’s your standard commentary by director Nick Hamm and DP Kramer Morgenthau, and a couple of truly laughable storyboards (serious yawn). You’ll find better panels on a Joe Bazooka gum wrapper. Where you’re going to want to direct your attention are the Alternate Endings. Now we’re talking about the most worthwhile thing on this disc. Not for the content of the endings themselves, which are all sitting on various levels of dubiousness, but for the educational value. What? Educational value? Are you kidding me? No. Watching the endings and especially the commentary behind them is a lesson in how movies should not be made. There are four alternate endings here, and Hamm’s and writer Mark Bomback’s commentaries provide good insight as to how each came about and why. Just like going to film school in 15 minute stretches.
Educational Value: 7.5 out of 10
Face Value: 2.0 out of 10
De Niro’s hair’s on fire (shades of Louis Cyphre). The usual floating heads.
3.5 out of 10
4.3 out of 10