Monday, June 05, 2006

The Omen (review)

The bar for creative inspiration in Hollywood has been lowered so far in recent years that the big studios are doing pricey remakes of movies that didn’t amount to that much in the first place.

Poseidon, Wolfgang Petersen’s pointless rehash of Irwin Allen’s cheesy ‘70s disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure is a recent case in point, a big overblown production that did nothing to improve on the original.

This week’s prime example: The Omen, a by-the-numbers rehash of Richard Donner’s nominally creepy but ultimately silly devil-child number from 1976. There’s little in the overly reverential thriller, directed by John Moore (Flight of the Phoenix), to suggest any compelling reason why this particular version of the Satan’s-spawn story needed to be dragged out for the millennials.

The trend – Hollywood’s insistence on revisiting inconsequential movies – confirms what many of us have suspected all along: Satan indeed is alive and well at the movies in 2006. Get used to it.

The plot of The Omen, both this one and the original, depends on the failure of parents and other observers to react sensibly in the face of strange goings-on.

Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), the pale, dark-headed son of Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber), the American ambassador to Great Britain, makes a lot of sour expressions. Worse, he leaves a trail of chaos in his wake.

At Damien’s birthday party, his nanny swears her allegiance to the boy seconds before leaping off a high ledge and hanging herself. At the London Zoo’s monkey room, the chimps and the apes go nuts when the kid approaches. On the way to a wedding, Damien freaks out, screaming and scratching – and drawing blood – as he and his father and mother, Katherine (Julia Stiles), near the church.

But, hey, kids will be kids, and they’re bound to grow out of the bad phases. That’s essentially the approach taken by Damien’s parents, although Katherine decides to start seeing a therapist, to help her survive the family’s rough patches.

And about that wild-eyed priest (Pete Postlethwaite) who keeps showing up to spout crazy stuff about Damien’s inclinations: Public figures are always bound to attract a nut job or two, Robert figures.

Thorn, who knows a secret about his son’s lineage, eventually does catch on to Damien’s bizarre behavior. And he begins having doubts about the sweet-talking, overly possessive nanny (Mia Farrow, pregnant with the devil’s spawn in Rosemary’s Baby) with a penchant for keeping ferociously aggressive dogs in her room.

“The Omen,” about two-thirds of the way through the film, turns into a mystery, as Thorn and a friendly London photographer (David Thewlis) trek all over Europe, first visiting the site in Rome where Damien was born and then taking a boat across a foggy lake – a veritable trip to Hades – to a monastery where a horribly scarred priest offers even more clues to the truth.

None of this is in the least frightening or suspenseful. But there are consolation prizes, so to speak: Anyone in the mood for a couple of gruesome, cleverly designed death scenes – a decapitation, a spear through a chest – won’t be disappointed.

Given the high-powered cast, the big budget and a theme that might have been expanded to incorporate some of the actual evil that has haunted the modern world (the script touches on 9/11, Katrina and Middle East conflict, in passing), it’s too bad that Moore’s vision is so narrow.

(a variation of this review will appear in tomorrow's Sarasota Herald-Tribune and in this weekend's Folio Weekly)

No comments: