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Friday, August 11, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nothing to `Bless' in this thriller gone bad

Special to The Seattle Times

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Movie review

X "Bless the Child," with Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, Rufus Sewell, Angela Bettis, Holliston Coleman, Christina Ricci. Directed by Chuck Russell, from a script by Thomas Rickman, Clifford Green and Ellen Green, based on Cathy Cash Spellman's novel, "The Devil in the Sixth Circle." 101 minutes. Several theaters. "R" - Restricted because of violence, drug content and brief language.

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The devil is apparently hot these days. Well, hot in Hollywood pitch meetings, anyway. Audiences, and certainly critics, however, may be finally getting tired of his failed promise to bring forth this so-called Apocalypse. Hell, he's doing worse than all of James Bond's villains combined.

Really, how many stories have we seen lately in which Satan or a flock of his devout minions tried to take over the world?

Let's see, there was "The Ninth Gate," "End of Days," "Stigmata" . . . and that doesn't include the re-release of "The Exorcist" Sept. 22. Maybe this rash of supernatural suspense is the Hell on Earth we've been hearing so much about.

The latest and painfully worst of the lot is "Bless the Child," a biblical "thriller" so predictable and preposterous that everyone involved should be banished to the confessional for their sins.

How bad is it?

Forget my critical opinion for a moment: The preview audience offered humiliating laughter throughout what was designed to be a nail-biting final act.

One couple grasped for sorry comparisons after the final credits: "It was worse than `Dinosaur' . . . maybe even `Battlefield Earth,' " said one woman, who was quickly one-upped by her companion, who stated, "I'd rather sit through `Coyote Ugly' again."

Ouch.

So, here's the devil's game plan this time out: First off, he's found some new followers.

They call themselves The New Dawn, which is basically a Satanic cult hiding under the guise of a self-help group for runaway teens and junkies. The kids all look like they've crawled out from the fields of "Children of the Corn," and their only cool member is Christina Ricci, but she doesn't want to play after the human-sacrifice part starts going down.

The leader of The New Dawn is a doof named Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell, he of the one droopy eyelid). Stark used to be a childhood actor; now, he's making deals with the devil.

His latest idea centers on finding a special 6-year-old child with telekinetic powers who can . . . well, actually, that part is never fully explained. It doesn't really matter though. He obviously wants her, because we get numerous close-ups of his face, uttering lines like, "She will be ours."

The "she" in question is Cody (Holliston Coleman), a little mini-Carrie who lives with her psychiatrist aunt, Maggie O'Connor (Kim Basinger), somewhere in Manhattan. This spiritual messenger child doesn't see dead people. Instead, she rocks back and forth like Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone and bangs her head against walls. She spins toy trucks with her mind, floats plates and ultimately gets around to healing people and delivering full-blown resurrections.

In a non-Hollywood world, little Cody would be doomed. After all, Stark has his Corn crew, Cody's real smacked-up mother, Jenna (Angela Bennis), and a creepy nanny/assassin who looks like Mrs. Danvers from Hitchcock's "Rebecca." Oh, yeah, and he's got Satan.

Who's on Cody's side? Well, besides a hysterical Basinger (who, with this and her role in "I Dreamed of Africa," has officially sunk her career to a lower level than it was before "L.A. Confidential"), there's Jimmy Smits as a priest-turned-FBI-agent and a bunch of praying nuns.

If this silliness isn't enough to turn you off "Bless the Child," know that it took three writers to come up with this drivel and that it's also directed by Chuck Russell. Russell's resume reads like a train wreck: "Eraser," "The Mask" and "Nightmare on Elm Street 3."

Bless the child? Fine. But what about the rest of us?

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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