Chuck Russell’s unloved apocalyptic fantasy from 2000 has, as Stefon from SNL would say, got absolutely everything; plate spinning, car chases, gargoyles, Christina Ricci, demons, Rufus Sewell, that thing where Ian Holm turns up for one scene as a exposition-spouting monk, serial killers, Jimmy Smits, mad cults, gooey Christmas sentiment, drug-addiction, mind-control, destistry; I haven’t read the book by Cathy Cash Spellman but I can only imagine what it’s like based on this crushingly odd-ball adaptation.
Kim Basinger stars as Maggie, an NYC nurse who adopts little Cody (Holister Coleman) when her sister Jenna unceremoniously dumps the mite on her doorstep to focus on her career drug-addiction. But Cody has mysterious powers; diagnosed with autism, she can heal through touch, and it’s clear that we’re in an Omen-in-reverse plotline in which Maggie will have to save the chosen one from the forces of evil, represented by child-actor-turned-cult-leader Eric Stark, played with tremendous elan by the always watchable Sewell. He’s got an army of tattooed cult-members on his side, but Cody also has an army of helpful undercover angels to help deliver her from evil.
Part of a rash of End of Days-style occult movies which surfaced at the fin du siècle, Bless the Child was universally derided, but it’s a fun good-bad movie with some plot points to savour. With Stark clearly an embodiment of Satan himself, it’s not surprising that he manages to kidnap Cody, preparing to sacrifice her on Easter Eve to ensure the rule of Satan beyond that date. But Maggie gets a chance to snatch the kid when Stark takes Cody to a dentist’s appointment the day before he sacrifices her. Why would Satan be so slavish attentive to honouring a child’s dentist appointment, particularly given that he’s about to kill her? As dentist’s appointments go, this one is pretty action-packed; it features armies of flying demons, a shoot-em-up climax, and an eventual escape from a burning church. In retrospect, Satan shouldn’t have bothered being so conscientious about taking care of Cody’s teeth, but that’s just one issue in a film bedevilled with WTF moments. Am I missing something here?
Stark also has a chance to kill an unconscious Maggie, but instead somehow manages to put her in the driving seat of a car heading the wrong way into traffic on a busy Manhattan bridge, a ridiculously complicated modus operandi for a killer who has previously just dumped body after body of his victims in the river. Of course, that sets up another angelic rescue where a Christ-figure pulls Maggie from the wreckage of the precariously balanced car, but by then, audience eye-rolls must be happening on a minute-by-minute basis.
Bless the Child is no-one’s idea of a good movie, but it is a hoot, with decent production values in service of a mad, anything-goes plot that doesn’t bear examination. One for the so-bad-it’s good file, it’s a daft wallow in Hollywood’s obsession with messianic children.