Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, Christina Ricci, Rufus Sewell
It's a wonder the devil has any spare time to cause evil given all the movie appearances he has made of late. Satan's most recent engagement (who's this guy's agent, anyway?) is in Bless the Child, a histrionic supernatural thriller that goes where plenty of other equally overwrought, good-vs.-Lucifer movies (including last fall's Stigmata and End of Days) have gone before.
Bless's titular child is 6-year-old Cody (Holliston Coleman), a girl whose special powers include healing an injured bird with the laying-on of her hands and causing votive candles in a church to burst spontaneously into flame. Her aunt (Basinger), who has been taking care of Cody since her birth, wonders what's up. She finds out when the child, a saint in the making, is kidnapped and threatened with death by a Satanic cult.
The movie is most effective when trafficking in such standard shock schlock as a room teeming with ravenous rats, a dark cul-de-sac beset by flying demons and the poor guy who has had both his eyes poked out with knitting needles. These images are supposed to scare you, and they do. But to what end? The movie's thrills are cheap and unearned. The basic plot is such Bible-rattling hocus-pocus that it reeks worse than Linda Blair's bedroom in The Exorcist following her pea-soup purging. Basinger plays her scenes at a fever pitch, as if she didn't trust the script, which may be a reasonable judgment on her part. Smits, after five years as Det. Bobby Simone on TV's NYPD Blue, slides easily into his role as an FBI agent who's aiding Basinger, but he hasn't enough to do. The best acting comes from Holliston, who brings real gravitas to her scenes. (R)