USA/Canada, 2004. Rated PG-13. 100 minutes.

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Robert De Niro, Cameron Bright, Christopher Britton, Zoie Palmer, Janet Bailey, Merwin Mondesir
Writer: Mark Bomback
Original Music: Brian Tyler
Cinematography: Kramer Morgenthau
Producers: Marc Butan, Sean O'Keefe, Cathy Schulman
Director: Nick Hamm


Grade: D+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

Note: This review discusses certain aspects of the ending in general terms, and thus contains minor spoilers, though in truth, the ending was spoiled way before we got around to writing about it.

The laughter in the screening room begins when Paul Duncan (Greg Kinnear) confronts Cora Williams (Janet Bailey) for information. It's a critical juncture in the film, but when the camera focuses on Kinnear, he's off on the right edge of the frame. A kitchen shelf fills the rest of the screen, on which lie a variety of brightly colored products—the only brightly colored objects in this washed-out film—such as a blue box of Ronzoni pasta.

Memo to the producers: obvious product placements at the climax of your film tend to kill the mood, particularly if the movie is trying for “gloomy.”

The laughter doesn't end there, unfortunately. Explanations are delivered in clunky monologues, characters make odd decisions considering there's a psychotic child on the loose, and other characters show up at improbable times. Granted, the screening room is full of jaded critics and journalists, but even so, near-unanimous laughter during the denouement of a somber thriller is rare. And a very bad sign.

But, let's back up a bit.

The unintentional comedy in question is Godsend, brought to you by the people who wish they'd made The Sixth Sense (including executive producer and infamous Dallas Mavericks owner Paul Cuban, now dabbling in movies through his financing company 2929 Entertainment). At the start of the film, our lead character Paul (Kinnear) teaches public school in the inner city, but gets a job offer that pays twice as much in the suburbs. He doesn't want to “sell out.” His wife Jessie (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) rebukes him, “This is about Adam. Sometimes ethics have to take a back seat.” It doesn't take a genius to see where this is going. Paul is, incidentally, a teacher of biology, and later there is a debate over whether a reservoir is man-made, or made by God because God made the men who made the reservoir—pretty obvious stuff.

Cameron Bright as Adam
Cameron Bright strikes an ominous pose in Godsend.

Anyway, despite living on supposedly modest wages, Jessie and Paul have enough money to spoil Adam (Cameron Bright) on his eighth birthday with fancy athletic shoes that he'll no doubt outgrow in six months. He never gets that chance, though. Unfathomably, Jessie allows Adam to wander outside in the middle of downtown by himself. He winds up dead.

That's when Dr. Richard Wells (Robert De Niro) arrives offering to implant a cloned cell into Jessie's womb in order to produce Adam's exact twin. The procedure is “extremely against the law,” so they'll need to cut off contact with everyone they know and move near the Godsend Fertility Clinic, in a town where the sun never seems to shine. Heightening the Deal-with-the-Devil vibe, Wells arranges for the Duncans to get a gorgeous house and boosts to their careers.

The decision to clone Adam is insane, particularly since Dr. Wells has never attempted it before, but the film does a decent job of creating a context in which the Duncans' choice becomes believable. After an identical birth to that of the first Adam, the film skips ahead to the new Adam's eighth birthday. Things get ugly once the new Adam passes the age when the old Adam died.

The complete absence of computer-generated effects in Godsend is refreshing, but the grey, subdued visual quality is a total ripoff of M. Night Shyamalan, as are Adam's visions of the dead. The scare tactics are also extremely cheap. It's not so hard to get an audience to jump in its seat with a sudden something-or-other and a big musical clang. Director Nick Hamm does it so often it gets irritating.

The lack of directorial imagination is not Godsend's real problem, however, nor is it the acting. Kinnear is able as the tortured father, and Rebecca Romijn-soon-to-be-ex-Stamos, acquits herself competently, in contrast to her slight performances in movies like The Punisher. Her attempt to imitate an emotional breakdown in a key scene in Femme Fatale is hilarious, but there's no such ineptitude here. As for De Niro, well…he's De Niro, and that's a good thing.

No, the problem is that Godsend bites off more than screenwriter Mark Bomback can handle. Consequently, he loses his grasp on the story's logic and its point of view. At the halfway mark, Godsend still has a chance to be really good. We still have no idea what's going on, and can't decide whether we should be scared of Adam or for Adam. Once Adam's visions of the dead Adam suddenly shift to visions of someone else entirely, the movie goes off the rails.

It's kind of like Stir of Echoes. When that film finally gets specific about Kevin Bacon's supernatural visions, it can't come up with anything better than a B-movie plot about a dead kid in the basement, with conventional flesh-and-bones antagonists. So it is with Godsend. It's not that cloning is bad; it's that cloning done by bad people is bad. The film confronts Paul with a pedestrian mystery to unravel, which he accomplishes readily enough, and then there's a confrontation that promises to be fiery (which, of course, takes place in a church), but instead comes off as silly. Nothing much happens, and even less than that is resolved. Roll credits.

Review © May 2004 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2004 Lions Gate Films. All Rights Reserved.

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