Cinema Signal:

The Human Cloning Debate
by Glenn McGee

. "Godsend"

The publicity for this film claims that it was inspired by "today's lightning advances in genetics and techonoly..." That's not how I see it. I believe it was inspired by M. Night Shyamalan's, "The Sixth Sense." In other words, a ghost story in which, in order to maintain a distinction, the ghosts are from retained cellular memories of a cloned human.

Paul and Jessie Duncan (Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), a successful couple living in a nice home, dote on their son Adam (Cameron Bright, who is). We're meant to understand that they virtually live for their child, and we do. He is killed in a car accident. Coming out of the church after making arrangement for the funeral, deep in grief, the parents are confronted by Dr. Richard Wells (Robert de Niro). He may not look so special, but he's Jessie's ex-prof, and a fertility expert. He pleads for a little time to explain an incredible offer.

Having disappeared from his earlier fame and controversy, Wells has opened up his own medical clinic specializing obstensibly in maternity but secretly in cloning activities, in which he's become a foremost expert. He has made tests and has determined that Adam is a perfect candidate for his procedure. He can create a virtual copy of their son.

After immediate rejection and after futher consideration, Jessie goes for it and convinces Paul. They are in league with the doctor -- or the devil if you prefer -- to "bring back" their little boy.

Fade out and back in years later when their new little boy is about the age Adam was when he died. No one looks any older, but there it is. From the outset (if you can call a virtual rebirth an outset) the new Adam is morose, erratic, annoying, and disobedient. He's also controlling, insincere and seeing visions. Our sympathy for him wavers between distaste and understanding because something unnatural seems to be affecting him and we're trying to like the guy.

In any case, there are the ghosts. Apparitions from the previous Adam (now we see the intent behind the name), coming to him by virtue of cellular carryover. For most of the film, a spell of curiosity holds you with some fascination in the concept's potentials and maybe some insight into its consequences. Adam's image flashes and personality switches at least present a new basis for a psychologic thriller with lethal dangers. It's suggestions might even provoke a new myth about the generally misunderstood genetic manipulation. But, the intrigue runs out of dramatic steam.

Fascination with the subject proves not to be enough to sustain the story. As Adam's misdeeds progress, the author's ideas about his destiny are exhausted and horror film devices fill the air. Last act resolutions of the faulty science and the sudden exposure of the mad-genius nature of the scientist, degenerates into histrionics and dialogue that produce unintended laughs. Those Captain Queeg steel balls out of "The Caine Mutiny" he's been rolling in his hands when in the private confines of his office are another tipoff to the cliches of character that are coming. The psychosis-mystery goes cheap horror-flick and you can feel where it's going by the mood and comments around you in the theatre. The moment arrives when the picture becomes its own parody and resurrection becomes impossible.

When Hollywood discovers a great beauty who can act, they sometimes offer her every new script in town. It used to be called "star-building" and applied to contract players from one of the studios. Today, the material may come from varied sources. This appearance by Romijn-Stamos as the devoted mother, released close on the heels of "The Punisher" and in the same theatrical cycle, puts her in an every-woman role and is a worthy example of her talent unassisted by high-energy heroics and effects. Fine with me, but no one need deny that her considerable sexuality isn't part of the dramatic and marketing formulation (just see the ad). I like her, and have even gotten to the point where I can spell her name (similarly unassisted).

Deniro, in a straight role after reaching into comedic turf ("Analyze That"), is a strong contributor to the film's early conviction, when it seemed to be successfully venturing into dark places. But when the originality falls apart, so does his character, as he seems suddenly to be struck down by last- act cliche. He is the villain of the piece all right, but when he and director Nick Hamm discover what they'v left themselves with, their formula goes formulaic and a carefully crafted character descends into banality and caricature.

So, is DeNiro's character's name Nick because of his director's? And is his last name (Wells) derived from his part in "The Score"? Might this be a little harmless playfulness in character creation?

The technical credits here are of high and consistent integrity. If only Mark Bomback's script experiment could pass the same test.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Cameron Bright as Adam, second version

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