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Godsend
Reviewed by Jason Myers & Sneezy the Squid, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   Mark Bomback (Screenwriter) and Nick Hamm (Director)
Genre:   Horror/Thriller
Released:   April 30, 2004
Review Date:   May 05, 2004
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   4/10 (What Is This?)

Sneezy the Squid: Godsend, in a nutshell, is another "Things Man Was Not Meant to Know/Meddle With" horror/thriller. This time, as in most TMWNMK flicks, it's about how those wacky science types shouldn’t meddle with the creation of life.

In the flick we meet the Duncan family: dad Paul (Greg "Darn I'm wholesome" Kinnear), mom Jessie (Rebecca "Mystique" Stamos) and poor doomed son Adam (Cameron "I'm not Haley Joel Osmet" Bright).

Jason Myers: Cameron Bright may not be Haley Joel Osmet, but he is one of the best things in this lackluster movie. He does a lot with a subtle smile, and he pretty much has to, since the screenplay itself provides only a blueprint for an impenetrable boring everyboy character who inspires little sympathy or fear.

Sneezy: The first half-hour or so introduces us to this somewhat realistically done happy family at Adam's eighth birthday. We find out that Dad's a high-school biology teacher, mom's an aspiring photographer and poor Adam is doomed. The day after this birthday, Adam is flattened in a car accident while mom is getting him a new pair of tennies.

After the wintery funeral, as Paul and Jessie are leaving the church, they are approached by an old college teacher of Jessie's, Dr. Richard Wells (Robert "Pachino's a hack" De Niro). It seems that Dr. Wells is a fertility doctor who believes that he can successfully clone Adam for the Duncans. He would then implant the cloned cells into Jessie to be carried to term as a new baby, essentially bringing Adam back to life. He offers to move them to a secluded community, get Paul a job and give them a home in exchange for being his test subjects. The illegality and immorality of this is given a bit of discussion, with soul-searching and grieving by the Duncans before they decide to go with Dr. Well's offer.

Jason: Of course, as an audience member, we know that they will, so even their perfunctory movie version of agonizing over the decision slows down the movie. If Godsend was a character study of the lengths grieving people will go to attempt to resurrect the life they once had, with a few thriller elements thrown in, then that’d be great. But Godsend is not a character study or a drama. It’s a rote horror movie slowed to near tedium. It’s more fun than watching blood dry, but not by much.

Sneezy: All the actors deliver nuanced performances, and it's good to see De Niro deliver a solid, actual performance again.

Jason: Come on, even when he’s getting right up into Greg Kinnear’s face, he’s phoning in his performance... from his cell phone... while on the shitter... and reading Mary Worth and Prince Valiant. If only De Niro had been able to channel his anger at being trapped in such a flimsy movie. A “climactic” scene where Paul confronts Dr. Wells includes a bloody candlestick and a burning church (Why? No reason, other than that the screenwriter reached into his flea market grab-bag of dusty horror film tropes, and those are the two he happened to lay his hands on. Oh, if only he had drawn “holy water” and “lightning” instead. Or “evil birds” and “cross dressing.”). In any case, the scene has about as much tension as a freeze-dried rubber band. De Niro’s even more bored than the audience is.

If you want a dose of De Niro in a creepy movie, watch Angel Heart instead. And if that’s still not enough creepy movie De Niro to satisfy, watch the Cape Fear and Frankenstein remakes. And then, if you’re getting really desperate to see De Niro in a creepy movie... watch Angel Heart again.

Sneezy: While you are 100% right on the “creepy” De Niro recommendations, after the slew of bad comedies that the man has done for his last few movies (Billy Crystal owes us), this was a vast improvement. I actually liked his choice of playing Dr. Wells as a restrained, civil character . . . until that Church scene, anyway, where everything goes right out the window. But by this point I was glad just to have something, anything, going on the screen that didn’t involve waiting for something you saw coming to happen.

Kinnear is very good at playing concerned dads, and Stamos is a believable mother whose loss is ripping her up. The scenes where they grieve and finally come to the "go ahead" decision are heart-tearing. Flash-forward to Adam (v2.0)'s eighth birthday, and that's where things start going wonky. Up to here, the movie is very good.

Jason: Up to here, the movie has the potential not to suck. For me, at least, Godsend isn’t a movie with an intriguing opening but a disappointing pay-off. It’s more like optimistically enduring an estimated 30 minutes of waiting in line for a new inverted rollercoaster. And even sticking around when you’re told the ride has broken down and will take 25 minutes to repair. And then finding out that you’re actually in line for one of the bouncing horseys at the Playland at Burger King.

Sneezy: Until the second eighth birthday party, the film has a slow, deliberate pace that gives the film a broody tone, which is enhanced by the blue-grey color pallet. There are not that many scenes with a lot of color, most of which are the two birthday parties. The rest of the film is dreary and set outside in snow. Lots of snow. This film has pretty much one season: winter.

But when Adam (v2.0) crosses the "death barrier" of when Adam (v1.0) died, the obligatory freaky events begin. The movie plays with the viewer, suggesting many possible answers. It’s simply night terrors.

Jason: Of course, the audience knows that’s not possible. Well, maybe that would have been a real twist ending. “Oh, it’s only night terrors, everything is fine, they all live happily ever after, and it turns out that that whole thing about getting your comeuppance after meddling with mother nature is just a silly superstition.”

Sneezy: Or Adam (v2.0) is being haunted by Adam (v1.0). It could be that since Adam (v1.0) was supposed to only live to eight, he’s now being tormented by either demons or ghosts of other dead kids. Similarly, it could be that since he was supposed to be dead by eight, and he’s lived longer, Adam (v2.0) is going bad. In the end, however, the explanation has a very nifty twist that I won’t spoil, because it’s one of the few good things in this flick at this point. But anyone with a brain will be able to see the twist coming. As a matter of fact, you’ll see EVERYTHING coming from this point on.

Jason: Call me brainless (but don’t call me late for dinner) because the build-up to the twist was the only time I got vaguely into the movie. Although, frankly, the twist itself made me yawn. As we were watching it, both my sweetheart and I came up with separate twists that were far more interesting and scary. Here’s one: it turns out that the Barnes weren’t the only couple Dr. Wells approached with his crazy ideas, and that the idyllic and isolated small town Dr. Wells made the Barnes move to is actually a giant open-air laboratory populated by Wells’ cloning experiments.

The poster for Godsend has a great tagline: “Adam Duncan. Born: December 11, 1987. Died: December 12, 1995. Born September 23, 1996.” The problem is, if you’ve seen the poster, you already know what happens in the first half of the movie, and whatever plot you dream up when you read the tagline is probably better than what’s in the second half of the movie.

Sneezy:I am glad I missed that tag-line then. Add another bone to the fire of the ads ruining movies.

As it goes on, Godsend degenerates into a long series of “tense” scenes where they build up the “something BAD is about to happen” vibe with the music and things moving at the sides of the screen. They also do a lot of the “BOO!” jump out scare tactics, the cheapest kind of scare a movie can go for.

Jason: I have to give props for this one scare (normally I’d say something here like “MINOR SPOILER AHEAD”, but I don’t give a crap): Greg Kinnear is in the car, and the camera is low near the console cupholder, and, BAM, the camera rushes up and there’s someone pounding on the window. There is an art to those cheap scares, and the director really nailed that one. Most of the rest of the time, though, he puts the fart in art. Which might seem to be grammatically impossible, but that’s the magic of cinema for you.

Sneezy: Everything is so telegraphed that instead of being scary and tense, it’s annoying and boring. You just want them to get to the “shock” so that the story can continue. You want to find out what’s up with Dr. Wells, what’s causing all the trouble with Adam (v2.0), and if anyone is going to die.

Jason: Well, at least one character knows what’s going on, and that’s “the person of color in a subservient and/or caretaker role.” When there’s a bad seed, or a supernatural force, or something unpleasant’s gonna happen, you can bet that the black nanny will always have the low-down. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Godsend is racist. I’m saying that if people just paid a little more attention to their gardeners and governesses and groundskeepers, there’d be much less evil in the world.

Sneezy: No one ever listens to the help, my man. But Dr. Wells really should have gotten a new cleaning lady. His den is covered with stacks of papers and journals all over the place. Speaking of that room, there is one particularly noteworthy bad scene where Dr. Wells is walking around in his home, slapping two of those Chinese metal hand-exercise balls, making a “bang-bang-bang” staccato to build tension as a kid is being stalked in the woods. Why is Dr. Wells walking around with them? What’s he doing? Nothing at all, it’s just an excuse for the ticking noise to try to make the scene more intense.

Jason: That’s funny, I was going to use that as an example of one of the most effective scenes in the movie. You’re right, he has no reason to be doing it. But the sound design is wicked shivery. Godsend is so rarely scary, but two of the more passable scenes involved the juxtaposition of one scene with another. The first is the one you just mentioned, and the second is one that puts Adam’s visions against his parents gettin’ some character-actor-on-supermodel action.

SneezyThen there’s the end, which I won’t spoil, but it makes you question Paul and Jessie’s brains. Their choice of action at the end was highly questionable to me. Overall, this movie starts out great, but becomes a study of frustration. You want to yell at the screen “get on with it already!” I can recommend it as a rental or wait for cable for the performances and the twist, but don’t waste matinee ticket cost on it.

Jason: I say don’t waste 90 minutes on it in any format. Godsend is as flat as Iowa and twice as boring. I watched it so you all don’t have to. Don’t let my brave sacrifice be in vain.

Sneezy’s Rating: 6 out of 10
Jason’s Rating: 2 out of 10


Gary “Sneezy the Squid” Mitchell and Jason “Film/DVD Editor” Myers planted some bad seeds once, but then forgot to water them.

 
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