I’ve been waiting years for a good, serious cloning thriller and hoping when it came that it wouldn’t be screwed up by morons. Godsend (Lions Gate) looked nifty on paper: It’s the story of couple (Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) who lose their 8-year-old son (Cameron Bright) in a freak accident (bouncing ball, construction site, car) and get approached, on the steps of their church, by a satanic-looking doctor (Robert De Niro) who wants to implant a genetic duplicate in the mother’s uterus. The gimmick could hardly be timelier. Whatever our moral qualms about this brave new genetically engineered world, we’re going to be living in it soon, and we’re going to wind up with human clones eventually: The market guarantees it, if not in this country then somewhere within easy reach of the world’s rich and unscrupulous. So, why not dramatize it now?
The good news about Godsend is that it hasn’t ruined that killer premise: It just chucks it out the window and turns it into a pea-brained hodgepodge of The Omen (1976), The SixthSense (1999), and about 30 Grade-Z Bela Lugosi mad-scientist movies. You know it’s just a clumsy rip-off when there’s a cut from the cloned son (name of Adam, by the way) being delivered to the new child’s eighth birthday—that’s the same age that Adam 1 got flattened. Apparently not of interest to the screenwriter, Mark Bomback, or the director, Nick Hamm, are the years in which the couple raises the same child they raised before, while trying to keep their secret from him and the rest of the world. For these guys, the movie doesn’t really get going until Adam 2 starts having visions of Adam 1 (the music goes BONNNNGGGG!!!), along with impulses to finger an ax, a claw hammer, etc.
The audience is desperately confused, as Adam 2 seems to be channeling a pair of kids: his former self and someone named “Zachary”—which I took, at first, to be an omega-boy variation on the name Adam. Well, no, there’s a twist coming—so stupid and so irrelevant that it would have destroyed the movie if there had been a movie to begin with.
Shot entirely in Canada, Godsend offers weak echoes of David Cronenberg—who should someday tackle a cloning movie of his own, come to think of it. Romijn-Stamos seems to want us to know she’s ready to move up to mature bimbos now that Charlize Theron has copped her Academy Award; but she should learn to throw away lines that begin, “You know I respect your ethics.” She says that to Kinnear, by the way, who turns into the movie’s moralist: “It’s not about science or evolution,” he explains, helpfully. “It’s about moral trespass.” Actually, it’s about cheap, exploitation picture shocks, only sprung with such solemn ineptitude that the movie wouldn’t rattle an expectant mother.
Opposite De Niro, Kinnear once again does his impression of Bewitched’s Darrin in a dinner-theater production of Death of a Salesman. As for the Great Actor himself, he should have learned from the last Frankenstein movie he took part in—Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 catastrophe. As I watched his increasingly embarrassed performance in this train wreck of a film, I thought of Lugosi’s epitaph in Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster (1955): “He meddled in God’s domain …”