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If you don't have children, the set-up for Godsend might not make you as terribly uncomfortable as it must for parents. Thankfully, director Nick Hamm plays the impending tragic loss of Adam Duncan (Cameron Bright) with a modicum of discretion. Could we, just once perhaps, have a story about the perils of cloning where the subject isn't named after the legendary first man? With symbolism that thuddingly obvious, there's nowhere to go but down.

Never mind that first-time screenwriter Mark Bomback sets up Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as Adam's mom, Jessie, to be somewhat inattentive and too shallow to consider any responsibility for the boy's death. Not that it is her fault, necessarily. However, it does seem strange for a woman who makes a point to her son of looking both ways before they cross a city street to then let him bounce a new basketball on that same street while wearing a Walkman as she waits at the cash register to pay for said ball. In the land of movie omens, you just know that all those little elements have to add up to something terrible.

Jessie's lack of reflection helps drive the plot. When a former college professor (Robert De Niro) shows up at Adam's funeral offering to clone him, well, she doesn't even stop to think about it. Only her husband Paul (Greg Kinnear), a high school biology teacher, has doubts. Even then, it doesn't really hit either one that maybe something has gone horribly wrong until after the second Adam's eighth birthday, when something goes horribly wrong.

But not in a fun way. Godsend is so busy being a serious film discussing the consequences of cloning that it can't decide what to do about the horror movie that keeps intruding.

Once the horror elements are introduced, vaguely supernatural at times, just a little too convenient at others, you cannot focus on the issue at hand. To keep things on track, Hamm and his cast play things with great earnestness. If everybody can look really serious, maybe people will understand that cloning is an important issue facing our society today. Please pretend that dead boy isn't lurking in the bathroom. We just threw him in to get backing.

That earnestness messes up the structure a bit, too. At its heart, Godsend centers around a small boy discovering some dark secrets about his past, and then some. Because we are meant to be grappling with the ethical issue, however, we're always a couple of steps ahead of Adam. We pretty much know who that faceless boy in the red jacket is, even if Adam doesn't. And Hamm refuses to indulge us, a restrained choice that would be admirable if the movie were more compelling. Though the script pulls an unsurprising but hilariously delivered third act twist, most of the suspense has long been drained away.

De Niro's Dr. Wells, of course, holds all the answers. Partly due to casting and partly due to some odd directorial choices, it's obvious from the beginning that though a genius, Wells is barking mad. Half-seducing Jessie with elaborate home made meals and freezing up whenever Paul asks too many questions, Wells obviously hides something. But it's his clanking metal balls that should really raise eyebrows. Sure, now a lot of people have them, but in the movies, it's been a sure sign of mental deterioration since The Caine Mutiny.

It's obvious why the cast would be attracted to this project. Like it or not, cloning is a hot button issue. Actors like Kinnear and Romijn-Stamos could use some meaty serious roles in their resumes, and once upon a time, working with De Niro could give you instant credibility. But the script gives them so little to actually do.

To her credit, Romijn-Stamos plays a mom surprisingly well. Again, Jessie seems a little too non-reflective, but her grief is palpable, which makes her later denial in the face of strong evidence Adam just ain't right plausible. Kinnear almost reaches for something, but he's blandly charming as a matter of reflex, and just not developed. In the opening sequence, we get a sense that he's actually quite a good teacher, but it never really matters.

It takes eight years for this supposedly sharp biology teacher to reach any real conclusions about the possible ramifications of cloning his son. For the purposes of the horror story, it has to take that long, because the problems shouldn't start until Adam II lives longer than his predecessor. But it's just not believable. If you last into the second hour, you'll also find it unbelievable that the movie still takes itself so seriously. Worse, you'll find it unbelievable that you made it into the second hour.


Derek McCaw

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