June 8, 2006

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The Omen (R)
An evil, evil, child goes pouting toward Bethlehem in The Omen, a hilarious remake of the 1976 movie.
If your child is ghostly pale but never sick, has piercing blue eyes, black hair with that weird Hitler

cowlick and a tendency to communicate entirely via pouting, he might indeed be the son of the Devil. If he pushes you off the third floor of your palatial English manor, perhaps you ought to admit this parent thing isn’t working out and, regardlessof whose child he is, it’s time for you two to go separate ways.

Ah, had the wonderfully dense Robert and Katherine Thorn only taken this advice.

Robert (Liev Schreiber) is the number two guy at the US embassy in Rome. Katherine (Julia Stiles), his wife, is hopelessly devoted to the idea of having a child. This inevitably leads to disappointment — whether your kid is the antichrist or just a mediocre student. For Katherine, the deck is particularly stacked against her because her actual baby dies shortly after it is born. Robert, too much of a coward to break it to his wife, accepts a shady priest’s proposition that he pretend another baby, the baby of a woman who died in childbirth, is Baby Boy Thorn. After a Rube Goldberg confluence of events that leads the ambassador to Italy — recently promoted to ambassador to Britain — to die horribly, Robert is promoted to US ambassador to Her Majesty’s land and takes his cheery wife and creepy son Damien to London.

Five years later, young Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) is celebrating his fifth birthday when his nanny becomes bewitched by a big black dog and jumps off the roof, hanging herself in front of the assembled partygoers. How does that serve the Devil’s world-destruction purposes? Personally, I think the Devil here is torn between maneuvering his son into positions of power and just causing trouble for the fun of it.

This abrupt departure of the nanny slowly starts to drive Katherine nuts. Now that she’s forced to spend more time with Damien, she realizes that he hardly ever talks, that he mostly makes his feelings known by deepening the furrow on his eerily pale forehead and that he freaks out not just other children but also zoo animals. Yes, I think when the monkeys start to overreact perhaps it’s time to consider that your son isn’t just “a bit shy.”

Before Katherine can give in to her mounting crazy by “losing” her son at the mall or simply chucking the Thorn men and skipping town, a new nanny shows up, one as creepy and disturbed as Katherine’s son. Despite the neon sign blinking “Nutcase” over her head, Nanny Baylock (Mia Farrow) is hired to serve her dark master, er, watch Damien.

Though Katherine agonizes over her suspicions that her son is evil and not her own (both of which are right — trust your instincts, kids!), Robert tries to ignore the signs of trouble even when priest Father Brennan (Pete Postlewaite) offers fairly direct warnings (as well as instructions for how Robert can go about offing young Damien). But when paparazzi Keith Jennings (David Thewlis) shows up with some spooky photos, Robert starts to wonder if he might have to usher young Damien to the Big Nap Mat in the Sky.

Every single time tiny Damien pushes out his lower lips, accentuates his jowl-like cheeks and lowers his eyebrows — like some Hitler/Winston Churchill/Richard Nixon genetic hybrid — I can’t help but giggle. Every time one of the characters obtusely shrugs off some sign of obvious satanic behavior or symbolism, I chuckle. Every time Live Schreiber is menaced by a dog (a surprisingly regular occurrence), I laugh out loud. Every aspect of The Omen seems constructed for maximum camp. The result is an operatic chorus (one not unlike the original Omen soundtrack) of devilish silliness.

Silly, but not poorly done. Sure, dressing your innocents entirely in white and your villains entirely in black and your devils in red is not exactly subtle but The Omen does it with aplomb, never letting up on the color scheme. The actors treat the wonderfully deadpan script as if it is Shakespeare. They never wink, never crack a smile, never give us an eye-roll — and not just in the literal sense; they never even commit the sins of overacting or scenery-chomping that would let us know that they know how absurd the whole thing is.

The Omen is utterly ridiculous from start to finish — it is also a damn fun time at the cinema. B+


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