Hell hath no fury like a woman at a bad movie

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It was bound to happen: Just as "The Silence of the Lambs" spawned a spate of sadistic thrillers based on increasingly bizarre methods of torturing women, the surprise success of last summer's "The Sixth Sense" has spurred all manner of occult hair-raisers with a spookily gifted child.

If "Bless the Child" is any indication, this isn't going to be pretty.

Kim Basinger plays a harried psychiatric nurse living a modest existence in New York (stop laughing) when her junkie sister shows up one night with an infant daughter. When Sis goes on the lam, Maggie O'Connor is forced to care for her niece, Cody (Holliston Coleman), who is thought to be autistic but is really imbued with spiritual grace. It doesn't take long for the Dark Side to get wind of Cody's special powers, which become the object of an apocalyptic struggle between a godless New Age guru (Rufus Sewell) and a former seminarian-turned-FBI-agent (Jimmy Smits).

Taking a page from Arnold Schwarzenegger's execrable "End of Days," the Christian faith-specifically Catholicism - is portrayed in "Bless the Child" as little more than mystical mumbo jumbo and supernatural pyrotechnics lifted straight out of "The Exorcist." Basinger shows just why her Oscar win for "L.A. Confidential" was met with such derision; she's lovely to look at, but woefully out of her league here.

Coleman is cute as the gifted Cody, but when things have finally gotten horribly out of hand - when every rat has swarmed, every monkey flown, each head rolled and every gargoyle leered - there's nothing for her to do but widen her eyes a tad more.

In what has become a bad-movie staple, "Child" features the presence of one great actor, in this case Ian Holm as a crusty old Satan-fighter.

By turns lurid, risible and offensive, "Bless the Child" goes straight to hell, and in this case it is its own handbasket.

'Bless the Child'

Starring Kim Basinger, Holliston Coleman, Jimmy Smits, Rufus Sewell

Directed by Chuck Russell

Rated R (violence, drug content and brief language)

Running time 110 minutes

Released by Paramount Pictures

Sun score: *

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