The Omen
Twentieth Century Fox
Directed by John Moore
Starring Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick
Rated R

One tolerated the bogus piety, extra-Vatican huggermugger, and general Panavision gloom of the original The Omen because one knew there was a really cool decapitation or impalement to follow. Alas, the days when a possessed nanny could hurl herself from a mansion top and dedicate her demise to The Antichrist are gone. Nowadays, a self-disrespecting apocalypse film can’t get by on gore or exotic religiosity alone without also milking 9/11 for value-added unease.

So, before discussing John Moore’s lousy remake of The Omen, there’s no way not to talk about 9/11, if only because Moore — he of the mediocre Flight of the Phoenix remake — references it relentlessly, beginning with a montage of misery that features iconic images of that awful day in a failed attempt to get us in a properly antsy Armageddon-ish mood even before his tiny tot of terror gets all devilish.

So how 9/11-y is Moore’s bad film? So much so that, at a recent Manhattan screening/director Q&A, an otherwise regular-looking fellow screamed at the director for using 9/11 to gussy up his “piece-of-shit movie.” Which brings to mind a basic idea future 9/11 exploitation hacks might consider: If you’re going to exploit the deaths of 3,000 or so New Yorkers, it might be wiser to crow about it in a city that isn’t New York.

Anyway, Moore has other tragedies to co-opt. In the same montage that some might deem lacking in subtlety, he also shows us Abu Ghraib torture victims, African famine victims, and assorted political riots. This is done to initiate the film’s basic premise: The world is scary and fucked up. So scary and fucked up, in fact, that The Antichrist can slip onto the proscenium of world events unnoticed. And the existence of movies like this will be tolerated.

Like Richard Donner’s original, Moore’s version offers a Washington power couple — in this case, Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles — who, thanks to the machinations of a cultish Catholic order, apparently double-shifting with their Da Vinci Code duties, end up raising Damien, a.k.a. The Antichrist (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick).

Indications that their bad seed may be, you know, really bad, are ignored. Like when, upon viewing a church whose architecture is a dead ringer for the World Trade Center, Damien goes all Tourettes. Or when a freaked-out priest (Pete Postlethwaite) offers oodles of proof that weird wee Damien isn’t just exhibiting normal behavioral problems. Or when a newly recruited nanny (Mia Farrow) insists that a black dog, looking like the hound of Hell itself, would make the perfect pet for the small boy. Or the mounting death rate among those who cross Damien’s path. And so on.

The sole way the new Omen might conceivably work is in its sadistic oneupmanship of the original’s fanciful deaths. But Moore’s idea of gore innovation is to simply linger on the bloody remains. And as a post-Left Behind Armageddon movie in which none of the principal players are born again, we know everybody is doomed, so the only thing really in danger is Schreiber’s career, which, after his involvement in The Manchurian Candidate remake, is on the precipice of devolving into that of point man of paranoid conspiracy movies. His work here is — how to put it politely? — godawful, an alternating mess of broods and gnashing of teeth. Nobody fares much better: Stiles looks pretty while suffering. And as a reporter, David Thewlis smokes cigarettes in a fatalistic manner that suggests he’s fully aware how steep a fall it is from his sterling work in Mike Leigh’s great Naked to this opportunistic crapshoot.

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