Godsend

2004, Movie, PG-13, 102 mins

Review

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Despite its provocative premise, this throwback to deliberately paced, low-tech chillers of the pre-CGI era is a dreary slog through haunted-child movie cliches — portentous dreams, glassy-eyed stares, cryptic pronouncements — that feels much longer than its 102-minute running time. The day after their son Adam's (Cameron Bright) eighth birthday, teacher Paul and photographer Jessie Duncan (Greg Kinnear, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) are plunged into every parent's worst nightmare: Adam is mowed down by an out-of-control car during a shopping trip with his mother. While they're still reeling from the shock of their sudden loss, the grieving couple are approached by cutting-edge genetic researcher Dr. Richard Wells (Robert De Niro), who makes them an incredible offer. If Paul and Jessie are willing to put their faith in an experimental medical procedure, he'll clone their son. Wells' method, which involves DNA manipulation at the moment of conception, will allow Jessie to experience what appears to be a normal pregnancy and their cloned baby will be indistinguishable from any other infant. Human cloning is, of course, illegal, and the Duncans must move, sever contact with their families and old friends, and never breathe a word of what they've done to anyone. With some trepidation, they agree and relocate to small-town Riverton, where Wells' portentously named reproductive clinic, Godsend, is located. Wells finds them a house and gets Paul a job teaching at the local high school; Jessie's miraculous pregnancy proceeds uneventfully and baby Adam is born healthy. For eight years he's a delight, but the night of his eighth-birthday party the inevitable consequences of hubristic tinkering with things man-is-not-meant-to-know kick in. Adam suffers an attack of night terrors followed by a seizure; though he recovers physically with no apparent ill effects, his demeanor changes dramatically. Adam becomes sullen and hostile, frightening and alienating his schoolmates and teachers; he has nightmares about a boy his own age named Zachary and may have had something to do with another child's "accidental" drowning. Is Adam remembering snatches of his first life and death through the terrifying prism of dreams, or is Zachary more than a mere projection of Adam's own garbled genetic recollections? Veteran UK filmmaker Nick Hamm, the Royal Shakespeare Company's resident director from 1983 to '88, has mastered the mechanics of staging a classical suspense sequence without figuring out how to actually make it suspenseful, and Mark Bomback's script never rises above the level of shopworn genre cliches. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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