For a film about the ultimate triumph of Good over Evil, “Bless the Child” sure is bleak and moody.
A New York City nurse named Maggie (Kim Basinger) is surprised one Christmas to find her strung-out sister Jenna (Angela Bettis) on her doorstep with a 9-day-old daughter, father unknown. Jenna’s been M.I.A. for a couple years, and as soon as Maggie starts fawning over the infant, she bolts, leaving sister and baby behind.
Maggie raises young Cody (Holliston Coleman) as her own for six years. At first the doctors think Cody’s autistic; when she starts resurrecting dead birds and thwarting evil, Maggie thinks it may be something else.
Then one day Jenna shows up again, now married to actor-turned-humanitarian Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell), who has developed a whole network of self-empowerment programs for troubled youth and the like. The happy couple promptly kidnaps Cody and whisks her away to one of Eric’s centers, which is actually a front for a devil-worshipping cult. (Isn’t that always the way with self-empowerment groups? But I kid.)
Meanwhile, there’s been a rash of child murders in New York City, and FBI agent John Travis (Jimmy Smits, really stretching since leaving “NYPD Blue”) has been called in to help investigate. He thinks there may be a connection between Cody’s abduction and the five murders, and it’s a race against time to stop Eric and the devil from carrying out their nefarious plans!
Though occasionally interesting and mildly thrilling, “Bless the Child” is really just your basic “Give-me-back-my-child!” melodrama, with some Satanism added as a nice garnish. The fact that “angels” (i.e., mysterious people acting helpful) are constantly aiding Maggie and Cody limits the amount of dread we can feel for them, for we know that no film directed by Chuck Russell (“The Mask,” “Eraser”) is going to end with Satan defeating God. The guy who did “Fight Club” and “Seven,” maybe. But not Chuck Russell, I don’t care how many “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies he directed (answer: one).
Basinger and Smits are serviceable in their roles; no more, no less. And young Holliston Coleman does what she can with the Cody role, but it’s such a dour, scared-faced little part that you can’t expect much.
At one point, Maggie threatens Eric with a gun. He says, “Are you really going to shoot me? Right here in front of Cody?” At which point Maggie tells Cody, “Close your eyes, honey.” That’s a fine moment, a perversely funny exchange that shows Maggie as a strong, vibrant character.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing else in the film to back it up. Maggie becomes Generic Heroine, aided by Bland Cop, and everything winds up happy — in a dark, unsatisfying way — in the end.
C- (; )