- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2006

Clever marketing does not a great movie make.

Yes, today is 6/6/06, the numerical trifecta which both marks the Number of the Beast and the worst possible birthmark a toddler can have, if 1976’s “The Omen” taught us anything.

The good news is that Hollywood’s “Omen” remake doesn’t rest on its advertising laurels. Director John Moore, working from a script by the author of the first film, is both slavishly faithful to the source and determined not to turn it into “Damien Meets Saw.”

That said, Mr. Moore and company have a devil of a time re-creating the creeps associated with the original film.

David Seltzer’s script manages a few nods to modern times but otherwise stays true to Damien’s demonic ways.

As the action begins, Robert and Katherine Thorn, an attractive American couple living in England, await the birth of their first child.

A complication kills their newborn, but the hospital priest offers Robert (Liev Schreiber) a unique solution. A single mother who just gave birth to a baby boy died during the procedure, and her son needs a family to call his own.

Rather than let Katherine (Julia Stiles) suffer a catastrophic loss — she already endured two miscarriages — Robert accepts the deal.

The gambit works — for a while.

Robert’s diplomatic career thrives, and Katherine proves a capable mother.

The trouble blooms around young Damien’s fifth birthday. The boy’s nanny commits a very public suicide, Robert’s boss dies in a suspicious crash, and a priest (Pete Postlethwaite) warns Robert that terrible danger lies ahead.

Katherine is the first to notice something isn’t quite right with young Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). That sense deepens when she hires a new nanny (Mia Farrow, apparently in possession of a Dorian Gray snapshot hidden somewhere) who icily disobeys her masters.

It will take a few major shocks to convince the couple their son may be the spawn of Satan, and Mr. Moore orchestrates each discovery with an assured, if uninspired, touch.

It would be mean to blame the lack of creeps on young Seamus, so we’ll bark at “The Grudge” and “The Ring” instead. Those films used horrific child figures for maximum goosebumps, rendering the sight of Damien’s coy smirk all but meaningless.

We also could do without a few cheap scares, aided and abetted by an overblown score. It pales compared to Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning music from the original, which became the boilerplate for subsequent horror films.

And, may we add, while Mr. Schreiber is a fine actor, he’s no Gregory Peck. Casting Damien’s parents much younger than the original couple robs the story of a key conceit. An older pair would be far more eager to accept the baby swap knowing their reproductive time frame is closing in on them.

Too often this “Omen” feels more like a series of shrewdly manipulative set pieces than a cohesive story. Perhaps it’s our memories of the original kicking in — ooh, this is where the child’s nanny professes her “leap of faith” toward her charge.

David Thewlis jolts the formula as a photographer who finds himself enmeshed in the Thorns’ tragedy. The actor, who neatly tiptoed around the flotsam that was “Basic Instinct 2,” transforms a secondary character into one more interesting than the leads.

The original’s finale set the stage for three subpar sequels, and the fear here is we can expect “The Omen” to trigger the same — with diminishing returns. Given this “Omen” sets the bar at only our midsections, the biggest fright left is how far the inevitable “Omen 2” will fall.

**1/2

WHAT: “The Omen”

RATING: R (Violence, disturbing imagery, adult language and mature themes)

CREDITS: Directed by John Moore. Written by David Seltzer based on his script from the 1976 original.

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

WEB SITE: www.theomenmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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