Movie review of Bless the Child

Friday, August 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Bless the Child introduces a new genre of films: biblical slasher.

Paramount publicists use more neutral terms like supernatural thriller. And the movie struggles to maintain some vague balance between the magical and the divine. But Bless the Child combines the second coming of Christ with the classic gore gimmick of stabbing a guy in the eyeballs with a pair of knitting needles.

Thus, the biblical slasher is born.

No sooner have we met Maggie O'Connor (Kim Basinger) than a woman next to her on the bus starts talking about the return of the Star of Bethlehem, its first appearance since you-know-who was born. In case we might not pick up on the portentousness of the stranger-lady's proclamation, she delivers it in a thick accent. You know how it is - people with thick accents know things that ordinary people don't.

Bless the Child is the latest product of what has become an epidemic form of filmmaking in Hollywood: flashy special-effects sequences strung together by simplistic story-telling. Characters are one-note cliches. But even on that level, Bless the Child is strikingly superficial.

So Ms. Basinger's Maggie, a tough-but-tender-hearted nurse, takes in a baby abandoned by Maggie's junkie sister. As the years pass, the baby grows into a little girl named Cody (Holliston Coleman). She has special powers. She brings a dead bird back to life. She cures an invalid. She spins plates.

Needless to say, the devil is after this special little girl since she is the key to some great future something or other that is never really explained, but could be either very good or very bad. The devil's earthly agent is Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell), the charismatic leader of a new religion.

Bless the Child has a few interesting points to make - Cody, in her blessed state, is diagnosed as autistic, which leads Maggie on a search for appropriate care (hey, this is an election year). In the movie's best scene, satanic Eric takes Cody to the roof of building, shows her the lights of New York and offers her the world. What follows is a clever updating on the gospels' account of Satan's attempted temptation of Jesus.

Most interesting of all is the way this movie's depiction of Eric's "New Dawn" religion (full of buzz-phrases like "Do what you will and will what you do") seems designed as a parody of the Church of Scientology - famous for it Hollywood members.

But for the most part, Bless the Child plays like stick-figure theater. Jimmy Smits walks through playing a seminary student turned FBI agent, but he has so little to do, his character may as well be searching for his car keys as for the killer in a string of child-murders.