1½ stars (out of four)
Look, it's a business venture. Nobody expects a remake of the 1976 devil-may-care hit "The Omen" to win the Palme d'Anything. All anybody wants from it is entertaining junk with a little atmosphere, and maybe a fresh idea or two regarding how to scare an audience. This is, after all, a story not about a bad seed, but the worst seed ever.
So I went to the new "Omen" starring Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles in the old Gregory Peck/Lee Remick roles, and all I got was a 30-year-old meal repeating on me. The credited screenwriter is David Seltzer, author of the original. (Dan McDermott did the uncredited revisions.) Once again, the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain (Schreiber) and his wife (Stiles) learn the eerie son they're raising (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, an Irish pout incarnate) comes from uncommon stock and causes elaborate Rube Goldberg-style executions everywhere he goes.
Schreiber and Stiles are good actors, and they're actually acting, if not to any actual avail. In the silliest recasting, a comically exaggerated Mia Farrow takes over for steely Billie Whitelaw in the evil nanny role. Michael Gambon shows up in one scene, and the way he overacts the stuffing out of his lines in the same shot that Schreiber underacts the daylights out of his, it's like some sort of science experiment.
In the original, David Warner, playing a tabloid photographer, got his head sliced off by a sheet of glass. In the new film David Thewlis, in the same role, gets his head sliced off by a metal pendulum thingie -- although in one of the few valuable additions, the beheaded body now suffers the final indignity of falling down a flight of stairs.
Aside from a couple of brief, jolting dream sequences, "The Omen" plods along. "It's a bit like a Shakespeare play," director John Moore told one writer recently, explaining his adherence to the original. The text, he said, "is so good, and the story tracks so well, that you feel inclined to stick with that." If that inclination sounds like settling, there's nothing wrong with your hearing.
Directed by John Moore; screenplay by David Seltzer; cinematography by Jonathan Sela; edited by Dan Zimmerman; production design by Patrick Lumb; music by Marco Beltrami; produced by Glenn Williamson and John Moore. A 20th Century Fox release; opens Tuesday. Running time: 1:45. MPAA rating: R (for disturbing violent content, graphic images and some language).
Katherine Thorn - Julia Stiles
Robert Thorn - Liev Schreiber
Mrs. Baylock - Mia Farrow
Jennings - David Thewlis
Father Brennan - Pete Postlethwaite