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Memphis Flyer Kid Stuff

What this movie lacks in frights, it makes up for in (gasp!) ideas.

By Chris Przybyszewski

AUGUST 21, 2000:  A strong story and interesting themes make Bless the Child far more than just a thriller movie.

The premise of Bless the Child is the second coming of the Christ-child. This time, the child is played by 7-year-old Holliston Coleman. Coleman eerily shines as the introverted and mystically talented young girl, Cody. Her birth mother Jenna (Angela Bettis) ain't no Virgin Mary, but rather a doped-up slut who leaves baby Cody in the care of Maggie (Magdalen?) O'Connor (Kim Basinger), whom Cody calls "Mim."

Maggie faces off against Satan's lieutenant, Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell), whose intensity and fervor make him perfect as tempter and main bad guy.

There are other characters. Unfortunately, John Travis (Jimmy Smits) and Cheri (Christina Ricci) just barely fill out the cast. Don't be fooled by the advertising, these two further descend into the Hollywood mid-card by disappearing throughout the film and playing only peripheral roles. This was a disappointment for me since I'm a big fan of both. However, with the exception of Coleman and Sewell, character development is not one of this movie's strengths. Even Basinger fails to give more than a wooden performance. She does scream very well, though, which is her greatest contribution.

Still, there are the "scary movie" elements to consider. While Bless the Child holds its own, it doesn't shine as a horror movie. The special effects are neither smoothly state-of-the-art nor very imaginative.

This, of course, hurts the tension, but a redeeming factor is the continual questioning of reality throughout the film. Misleading camera angles and unexpected visual developments complement Maggie's own hallucinations. While Maggie struggles to keep her grip on reality, the audience is constantly forced to refocus and keep up, which heightens the tension. However, since the visual effects are neither subtle nor particularly well done and Basinger's performance is less than solid, the overall effect comes across as a touch gimmicky.

But all of this is secondary. This film's best feature is its story.

And what a story. Here's the deal: Jesus is back in town. Only this time, he's a 6-year-old girl. His (her) opponent is a greasy little motivational speaker by the name of Stark who moonlights as the head of a nasty occult group whose hobbies include kidnapping, mutilation, and murder.

Don't get all riled. It's not like little Cody is alone. Her aunt Maggie is there, too. And there is a host of Catholics and do-gooders everywhere. I mean everywhere. Boiled down, Bless the Child has one loud and clear message: When God's kid comes back, (s)he will be Catholic.

Catholicism abounds in this movie and serves as Cody's saving grace. She clings to her rosary and has a convent of nuns praying a novena for her. She finds strength in the weeping eyes of a Virgin Mary statue.

This obviously leads to one question: Just what in the hell are writers Clifford and Ellen Green and director Mace Neufield (The Omen) telling us? On the surface, it might be that Catholics are right, they know what they are talking about, and theirs is the way to turn Satan away.

But there is also a more subtle message. While Jesus was Jewish and faced his trials as a Jew, Judaism was still lambasted in the New Testament. In this modern-day story, Catholicism does indeed help little Cody, but there is a quiet warning that in the A.C. (after Cody) Catholicism will be old hat and the scapegoat of the New "New Testament." This implied idea provides a powerfully spiritual tone that some will surely consider off-base, if not downright blasphemous.

Of course, I think this is good stuff. Rarely do I find so much to talk about when I go see a "thriller." Instead of going for the sheer visceral reaction of the audience, the creators of this film want to challenge the viewer. The result is a thinking-person's thriller. While it does not produce the necessary emotional effect to become a classic, it is a good effort that could have been much worse.

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