`Godsend' is a good thrill until it meets a formulaic, uninspired end

Lead actors give solid performances

April 30, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Godsend is two-thirds of a good movie, with a final third that's just downright awful. So much wasted potential only makes the whole thing that much more painful.

A cautionary tale about cloning that's more or less a Frankenstein for the new millennium - if the argument against cloning is that man shouldn't be playing God, then Victor von Frankenstein was a pioneer in the field - Godsend opens up myriad cans of worms in its setup, and tantalizingly suggests that what will follow is an intelligent mix of horror and subjective morality. But then director Nick Hamm and screenwriter Mark Bomback run out of ideas or inspiration (maybe both), resorting to a denouement involving swinging axes and fortuitous coincidences that's as ludicrous as it is formulaic.

Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, working extremely hard to sell this thing, are Paul and Jessie, a couple whose adorable young son, Adam (Cameron Bright), is killed in a car accident. Devastated, they're approached by Richard Wells (Robert De Niro), a fertility specialist who once had Jessie as a student. He's heard of their plight and wants to help.

Explaining that he's perfected a cloning process at his secluded New England lab, he suggests that the bereaved couple make themselves the subject of one doozy of an experiment. Implanting Jess with an egg containing some of Adam's DNA, he explains, will result in the birth of an exact copy of their late son, right down to the lack-of-curl of his hair.

After soul-searching (some of the movie's best scenes), the couple agree, and before you know it, another Adam is growing up in their new house.

Things go along just swimmingly until Adam-B approaches the age at which Adam-A died. The lad starts having strange nightmares, staring into space at inopportune times, gazing too intently at sharp objects and blunt instruments. Bad things appear on the horizon, and no matter how many times Dr. Wells assures Paul everything will be OK, Paul doesn't believe him.

Turns out Paul's a pretty good judge of character.

As a study of how grief can rip apart even the most loving of couples, of how science can offer up hope that enables our baser instincts to trump our good sense, and of how some unknowns are best left that way, Godsend is crackerjack, an original, thought-provoking mystery with good performances from all its lead actors. The film's science, though probably hooey, serves its structure well.

But then the filmmakers decide to make it a thriller of the lowest order, filled with bloody axes, eerie premonitions and out-of-nowhere plot turns. People who hold the key to unlock the various mysteries show up on the flimsiest of excuses. Horrific hands thrust out from walls for no apparent reason other than to shock the audience.

Worst of all, the film drags on two scenes too long, ending with a pair of codas that are cheap and nonsensical.

Moralists complain that cloning is the result of scientists who don't have the good sense to know when to stop; perhaps it's appropriate that Godsend is the product of filmmakers afflicted with the same problem.

Godsend

Starring Greg Kinnear, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Robert De Niro

Directed by Nick Hamm

Rated PG-13 (violence, frightening images, sexuality)

Released by Lions Gate Films

Time 100 minutes

Sun Score**

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