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June 7-13, 2006

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'The Omen'

Bad Boy: Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick is every parent's nightmare in 'The Omen.'

Beat the Devil

'The Omen': Any movie that warns us against children and dogs can't be all bad

By Richard von Busack

ONE ORIGINAL and three sequels later, it may be more right to make a musical out of The Omen than to remake it. (You liked Spamalot, you'll love Damnalot.) To the appreciative chuckles of the preview audience, whose expectations have been dashed by the cinematic summer of '06, this ludicrous semicomic atrocity unfolds in a manner that wouldn't spook a nun's canary. Actually, there was an enthusiastic reaction from a colleague in the row ahead, who bellowed with pleasure when some Mythbuster-style gadgetry decapitated one of the dunces who stars in this thing. Like most of the target audience, he knew The Omen was all about the murders.

Admittedly, director John Moore can hurl a devil-dog into the frame fast enough to make you jump. He has a sure hand on the old "medicine-cabinet mirror" bit—yipes, it's Bunny from Donnie Darko! Putting a "face" on a cathedral, with illuminated dials for eyes, is a shrewd use of digital trickery. And legendary actors like David Thewlis, Peter Postlethwaite and Michael Gambon keep beautifully straight faces, just like the pros they are. Postlethwaite works the hardest; he has to look haunted when reciting doggerel that proves that the Holy Roman Empire prophesied in Revelations refers to the European Union. (For "Rome," one must read "Brussels.")

Perhaps the happiest moment in the film is the exploration of this mad priest's lair, covered with crosses, pages of the Bible and those dust-mote-laden klieg-light rays probing the room from outside. To his credit, hero Liev Schreiber didn't say what some of us were thinking: "My God, this place! It's like something out of a David Fincher movie!"

When Moore isn't doing Fincher (or, weirdly, Antonioni, in vistas of snowy, foggy Italian flats), he seems to be getting into some James Whale. Often, there's a comedy trapped in The Omen, raging against its cage. Moore spoils the fun by insisting that we care about the emotional crisis of Schreiber (an actor as remote as Nome, Alaska). His Robert Thorn is the president's godson. Not what you'd call an outsider. He is disturbed by the matter of his mewling idle wife (Julia Stiles) and the glowering little bastard Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) with the black circles under his eyes: a child who is so obviously a son of Satan, you have to wonder why someone didn't try to beat the devil out of him.

Ah, but what can you expect in this secular world? The movie is a warning against permissive parents. When Robert goes to a shrink, the doctor's office is a concrete bunker that Goering would have envied, penetrated with those very same dust-mote-laden klieg lights. (Someone tell London: The blackout is over.) Of course, the sinister humanist dismisses the notion of the devil and all his pomps. Working mostly from a 30-year-old script as it does, the movie has to gloss over the "kindness" of a husband lying to his wife about a clandestine adoption—nothing she ought to worry her pretty little head about. And it also has to promote the implication (offensive, except to religious simpletons) that the fall of the World Trade Center is a herald of the arrival of the Antichrist. Is a long streak of bad movies a sign of his imminence?

Movie TimesThe Omen (R; 105 min.), directed by John Moore, written by David Seltzer, photographed by Jonathan Sela and starring Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, plays in San Jose and valleywide.

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