- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

''Bless the Child" should not be mistaken for anything congenial to children, families or the devout.
About a 60-40 mixture of gothic abomination and ramshackle ineptitude, it won't be the credit director Chuck Russell will want to emphasize on Judgment Day.
He would be on safer ground with "Nightmare on Elm Street 3," although the best bet would be a comedy indulgence plea with "The Mask."
An agonized, star-crossed wife and mother in "Dreamed," Kim Basinger shows her versatility as an anxious spinster aunt in "Bless." Ostensibly a New York City nurse named Maggie O'Connor, she must assume the care of a niece, Cody, abandoned in the prologue by a strung-out kid sister, Jenna (Angela Bettis).
Autistic symptoms complicate the little girl's survival and recovery, but six years later, Maggie has coped, and Cody seems to be progressing indeed, progressing in the direction of fantastic telekinetic skills whenever she spins an object.
At that point, feckless Jenna returns as the cringing consort of an unscrupulous best-selling New Age guru, Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell), and demands the return of Cody.
When Maggie resists, the child is abducted; the heroine is obliged to struggle for a reconciliation or counterabduction during the remainder of a diabolically maladroit plot. She is assisted with commendable sincerity but dubious expertise or wallop by FBI agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits).
Self-denying in one respect, the filmmakers never indicate a romantic interest between nurse and G-man, who has been investigating cult killings of little ones. This grim mission has led Travis to Stark's creepy, burgeoning movement, which purveys such slogans as "No God but you" and "Do what you will, will what you do." Sounds like a job for the Mystery Men, and I wish they were on the case.
Mr. Sewell has some perverse fun with the softly menacing aspects of Stark, a devil's disciple specializing in the slaughter of children. He gets a couple of elaborately hateful scenes while threatening to corrupt or murder the juvenile actress cast as Cody, Holliston Coleman.
In one, Stark incinerates an elderly derelict; in another, he ponders hurling Cody from a rooftop after trying to lure her into jumping and revealing divine powers.
That's something of a sore point. The film simultaneously aggravates and defuses unsavory tendencies. While it causes more resentment than anything else to watch Cody placed in gratuitous jeopardy, she also is characterized as such a lock for divine intervention that the villain's threats remain empty and devoid of suspense in the long run.
Both the movie and the villain bungle an exercise in futility: pretending to be as bloodthirsty as possible.
The heroine doesn't get much credit for clever or effective countermeasures, although her brief snatch of Cody from an evil dentist's office looks hilariously desperate.
Miss Basinger does a lot of knuckle-biting and hand-clutching in the absence of persuasive intelligence and tenacity.
Of course, if she were blessed with a bit of elementary foresight, she wouldn't get stuck with heroines as inadequate as Maggie in thrillers as pitiful as "Bless the Child."

1/2 out of four stars
TITLE: "Bless the Child"
RATING: R (Sustained morbid apprehension about abducted and victimized children; interludes of graphic violence with supernatural trappings)
CREDITS: Directed by Chuck Russell
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

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