Godsend

on April 30, 2004 by Mark Keizer
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How appropriate that "Godsend," a thriller about cloning, attempts to replicate the DNA of "Rosemary's Baby," "The Omen" and "The Sixth Sense." And much like Adam, the eight-year-old boy who becomes the subject of a genetic experiment, "Godsend" is only an unconvincing imitation of the original. What's more, though cloning is still as much of a hot-button topic as it was when Dolly the Sheep made headlines, writer Mark Bomback pays only lip service to the moral and ethical quandaries that drove him to tackle the subject. So all that's left to keep our attention are the stylish offerings of British director Nick Hamm and the answer to the film's central question, "what's wrong with Adam?"

Paul and Jessie Duncan (Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) are upper-middle-class types celebrating the eighth birthday of their son Adam (Cameron Bright, winner of the Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike contest of 2015). The next day, the boy is killed in a car accident. At the funeral, Paul and Jessie are approached by genetic scientist Richard Wells (Robert De Niro), who makes the distraught couple a morally repugnant but oddly compelling offer: If they act within 72 hours, Wells can completely replicate Adam using one of the boy's cells. This new Adam would be a perfect copy, down to the very last hair on his head and synapse in his brain. The trade-off is that this illegal experiment would require the Duncans to sever all ties with their families and move to Dr. Wells' Godsend compound, where they'll be provided with a new life. The Duncans agree to the procedure, which is a success. However, once the new Adam reaches the age at which his original self died, he begins acting strangely, seeing visions and blacking out.

"Godsend" squanders the opportunity to provide anything more interesting than warmed-over M. Night Shyamalan. The middle third of the film is replete with scenes in which something is stirring in the house and the audience waits for it to emerge, complete with music sting. Even the locations, with their Autumn in New England feel, echo Shyamalan's beloved Philadelphia. And while all that may briefly satisfy the teen crowd, the adults will be less impressed.

Paul and Jessie spend much time projecting various levels of frustration, while proclaiming Dr. Wells' controversial procedure either a good or bad thing. It doesn't get much deeper than that. Admissions of confusion and pain are a given, but screenwriter Bomback shows no creative eye towards the uniqueness of Paul and Jessie's dilemma or interest in dissecting it to dramatic satisfaction. Also, early backstory is handled awkwardly and the script is guilty of screenwriter shortcuts that manifest as one too many coincidences. The final revelation is fine, but not enough to justify enduring what came before it.

What's also frustrating is we never get to hear from Adam. The boy is experiencing something unique in human history (although he doesn't know it), yet we are only asked to watch him walk around in a stupor, acting alternately normal and possessed, seemingly at random. Some insight into his thoughts and fears would provide the sympathy that the filmmakers mistakenly believe is inherent in the material.

Kinnear and Romijn-Stamos try valiantly to craft three-dimensional characters, but it's simply not on the page. De Niro continues to dilute his career by taking supporting parts in films that don't deserve him. Here, it's difficult to determine what possessed him to take the role, which is similar to his character in the far superior "Angel Heart." In fact, one is hard-pressed to recall a De Niro performance where he seemed to exert so little effort. However, thank goodness he's around, because even De Niro on autopilot is still De Niro.

There's a sense that British stage director Nick Hamm feels he's doing something avant-garde and career-making, but he's actually just carting out overused and undistinguished horror movie clich├ęs. Showing more interest in the characters and less interest in the camerawork would have set the film apart. Starring Greg Kinnear, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Robert De Niro and Cameron Bright. Directed by Nick Hamm. Written by Mark Bomback. Produced by Marc Butan, Michael Paseornek and Cathy Schulman. A Lions Gate release. Thriller. Rated PG-13 for violence, including frightening images, a scene of sexuality and some thematic material. Running time: 102 min

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