No one can say that Kim Basinger has not taken full advantage of her newfound status as an Oscar winning actress. After all, before she showed that actually acting was not out of the question for her in "L.A. Confidential," she had been consigned to the role of decorative co-star in really bad movies.
Now, her elevated stature gets her the TOP billing in really bad movies.
Her latest star vehicle-- after the treacly "I Dreamed of Africa"-- is "Bless the Child," an unpleasant spiritual thriller that wants to be the girl version of "The Sixth Sense," but is actually a ludicrous mishmash of "The End of Days" and "The Omega Code."
Basinger plays Maggie O'Connor, a lonely (for some unexplained reason) psychiatric nurse who one December is presented with a newborn baby girl, courtesy of her junkie sister, Jenn (Angela Bettis.) This happens after Maggie is informed by a woman on a bus that the Star of Bethlehem has appeared for the first time in 2000 years.
This is typical of how the story is set up Thomas Rickman's clumsy script, with awkward expository dialogue in which people inform each other of things, many times things they already know, but have to tell US.
Six years later, Cody O'Connor (Holliston Coleman) is considered a "special needs" child, and is attending a Catholic school specializing in autistic children. Maggie is sure that Cody is not autistic, but has a special gift "She hears things that others do not." However, Maggie is singularly uncurious about it and doesn't explore the "gift" at all, just takes her to the school.
Meanwhile, New York City is gripped with terror as 6 year old children with Cody's birthday are being kidnaped, branded with a Satanic symbol, and killed. Jimmy Smits plays an FBI Agent with the inexplicably WASPy name of John Travis, a "specialist in cult murders" who is assisting the NYPD.
When Jenn shows up with a famous self-help guru, Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell) and forcibly takes custody of Cody, Maggie coincidentally runs into Travis at her local precinct, and Travis immediately makes the connection to his case. Smart guy.
But this is typical of how the plot in "Bless the Child" lurches along. People just show up and tell Maggie things-- like Christina Ricci in a cameo as a drug addict who has unaccountably been filled in by Stark's group on everything they plan, including the details of their version of the Slaughter of the Innocents.
Not only does Maggie coincidentally treat this young woman in the hospital when she comes in for an overdose, the hospital is apparently in the habit of giving out nurses' home telephone numbers to junkies who walk in off the street!
This is only one point in a plot that is filled with such silliness. Maggie never calls a lawyer for help in the custody dispute, just keeps barging into Stark's lairs so she can be captured then make a narrow, improbable escape; and she never calls Agent Travis for help, just reports to him how she almost got killed after the fact.
Holliston Coleman is quite good as Cody, particularly in her scenes with Stark, but Basinger is hopeless. She is at turns flat and shrill, with no modulating moods in between.
While the adults in this story seem convinced that Cody is autistic rather than a modern saint, it is notable that compared to Basinger's character, the little girl is VERY aware of what is going on around her!
The story tries to make some interesting spiritual parallels-- including a temptation scene of Cody that mirrors Christ's in the Gospels, and a final attempt by Stark to force Cody to embrace Satan that mocks both the sacrament of marriage and Jesus's crucifixion night.
But everything remotely interesting in this movie is overwhelmed by plot silliness and Basinger's terrible central performance-- not to mention the whole tasteless and brutal child murder plot with its repeated images of little burned arms.