God vs. Satan, Again 

Bless the Child (PG-13)

When the turn of the millennium is no longer fresh, is it possible Hollywood will stop churning out anxious, God vs. Satan, end of time spiritual holocaust flicks? I don't know about you, but I've just about had my fill.

Think Stir of Echoes, The Sixth Sense and Stigmata all sort of jumbled together and filmed with cheesy effects and generally poor production quality and you've got Bless the Child. It's not a terrible flick; it's even mildly entertaining. But sloppy editing robs us of any satisfying dramatic climaxes, and sloppy thinking and writing renders many of the characters' actions and plot turns inexplicable.

Kim Basinger is Maggie, a mild-mannered, single psychiatric nurse who is surprised one night by her long-lost sister Jenna, a junkie who leaves her newborn baby girl with Maggie then runs off into the New York night. As the child, Cody, grows up, she exhibits what appear to be signs of autism, though Maggie believes something else is going on -- she seems to hear things others cannot hear. When Cody prays over a dead bird and miraculously brings it back to life, it is clear to us and to the nun who is her teacher, Sister Rosa, that she is blessed.

But the year she turns six, a rash of kidnappings and murders of other six-year-olds, all born on Dec. 16, begins to occur. Jenna reappears with a bad guy named Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell), a television self-realization guru who is actually, you guessed it, the head Satan worshiper, who wants to either turn the blessed child to the dark side or kill her before she leads others to God. Jenna and Stark steal the girl from Maggie, and the rest of the film involves her attempts to rescue Cody before she is sacrificed.

In the background for most of the film is Jimmy Smits as an FBI special agent specializing in occult crimes. Had the filmmakers made more of his role, the film might have been more interesting. He and Basinger look like two perfectly sculpted counterparts -- he, the male Latino Kim Basinger; she, the female, blonde Jimmy Smits -- but little is made of their pairing.

Director Chuck Russell, who made the breakthrough special effects flick, The Mask, either was dealt a significant budget cut or simply lost interest in the film somewhere in the production process. The computer effects are amateurish and unimaginative.

The best thing in the film is the deliciously diabolical Stark, played by Sewell with ravenous glee and a bulging glass eye. Otherwise, Bless the Child is just mild God vs. Satan pulp, largely unmemorable.


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