"Godsend," a vile new horror movie that opens today, offers two parents (a teacher and a photographer) so rotten with yuppie narcissism that after their son is struck dead by a car, they agree to have him cloned. Naturally, that turns out to be the sort of huge mistake on which you can hang half a dozen sequels.
Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos play Paul and Jessie Duncan, who lose their boy Adam, then their senses of morality, then more or less their minds, once a fertility doctor (Robert De Niro) offers them a chance for Jessie to be impregnated with one of Adam's cells, to create a "genetically identical fetus." The screwy doctor is just doing his job. What's mom and dad's excuse?
Part of the deal means the Duncans have to leave New York (which is hard because Paul seems to think he's a hipster), ditch anyone they knew, and move to Middle-of-Nowhere, Vermont, which Vermonters might recognize as Middle-of-Nowhere, Montreal.
Once there, we can only assume things go swimmingly because we don't see much of the Duncans and their new son (Cameron Bright) until his eighth birthday. Adam died shortly after his first eighth birthday, and not much after his second one he flips out and starts dreaming that he's walking in a school hallway and the kids all have dead faces. There's lots of noise, fast cuts, and meaninglessness. He's having a nightmare on Elm Street.
Directed by Nick Hamm from a script by Mark Bomback, "Godsend" wouldn't seem so terrible if it wanted to play in the fields of science fiction: to create a world in which cloning is commonplace and have the procedure go horrifyingly wrong from there. The spectacular first hour of Steven Spielberg's "A.I." gave a similar issue thorns, considering an unnatural child's natural sense of inadequacy.
"Godsend" makes no attempt to take Adam seriously -- yet naming him Adam is a joke the movie never gets around to telling. What's the malfunction exactly? Psychology is beside the point. Instead, the movie leans on the usual "gotcha" jump gags that produce bogus tension rather than narrative cogency. Adam skips right past being a scared, confused little boy and straight to being a murderous horror-movie cipher.
"Godsend" also snags a run in its credibility. Paul Duncan is a biology teacher who never raises any biological questions about the cloning? Watching the blandly serious Kinnear getting righteous and trying to outact De Niro is lamentable. (De Niro isn't really doing a lot of acting here anyway.)
Romijn-Stamos is miscast, too. She often seems unjustifiably bored. But now that it looks as though Charlize Theron has given up junk horror flicks, we can probably look forward to more of them starring Romijn-Stamos.
The movie drags to a conflict between parents and son that turns out not to be much of a conflict after all. And it all terminates with one of the most inane conclusions I've seen in a bad horror film.
"Godsend" makes swill of religion, science, family, and morality. It has the sensitivity of a cactus, the ingenuity of a square wheel, and the integrity of a CEO. Adam seems to exist only to make his parents feel complete. The movie, of course, never says so, but these people are sick. They don't need a child; they need a goldfish.
Wesley Morris can be reached at email@example.com.