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By Pete Vonder Haar | June 6, 2006

The sooner all of you realize that it’s no longer a worthwhile exercise to continue railing against the preponderance of remakes coming out of Hollywood, the happier you’ll be. There are simply too many of them, meaning ranting about each and every one runs the risk of becoming a Don Quixote-ish pursuit. Yes, they’re actually making a new version of “The Seven Samurai;” yes, somebody in the future will re-imagine “Casablanca” with Paul Walker and Paris Hilton (“We’ll always have Paris?”); yes Hollywood is creatively infertile and run by emotionally bankrupt w****s. Let’s move on.

The latest do-over is a retelling of 1976’s “The Omen,” a film which examined how one American diplomat’s family might tackle the thorny (heh) issue of raising the Antichrist (I understand that most parents at one time or another have imagined their child is a demon spawn, but here it was actually the case). Starring the stately Gregory Peck, the beautiful Lee Remick, and the…still working David Warner, the original was a sinister success, grossing over $60 million in 1976 dollars and producing two sequels (three, if you count the 1991 made-for-TV disaster).

The story this time around is essentially the same: Pregnant Katherine Thorn (Julia Stiles) has complications during labor, and her child dies. A mysterious priest approaches her husband Robert (Liev Schreiber) with another newborn who just happened to be orphaned that very night. Told his wife will never be able to bear children again, Robert reluctantly takes the child and the Thorns raise young Damien as their own. But as the boy grows older, it becomes apparent that there’s something a little…off about him. People have a tendency to die in his vicinity, for example, and then there’s the mysterious priest (Pete Postlethwaite), who’s quite desperate to impress upon Robert the danger his son presents to mankind.

The good news is that this new “Omen” isn’t that bad. There are a couple of effective scares, and the build-up of dread is, for the most part, handled pretty well. Then again, my expectations may have been drastically lowered by several years of sub-par horror, so anything remotely suspenseful is liable to wring a decent review out of me. I also realize I’m giving the new “Omen” a favorable rating in spite of a few glaring problems, to wit:

1) For starters, the idea of a child being the son of Satan is only terrifying when the child doesn’t look like something out of an Edward Gorey painting to begin with. Harvey Stephens, the original Damien (he also has a cameo here), was a mostly normal looking kid, which had the desired effect of making us distrust all children from that point on. A mere glance from new Damien Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick would likely make you run screaming from your local Chuck E. Cheese.
2) Robert’s reaction to this wild-eyed priest who repeatedly tells him he needs to kill his own son is a good deal more measured than that of most fathers I can think of. Indeed, Schreiber is virtually unreadable for the majority of the picture, going from grim stoicism to grim foreboding to grim resignation when he’s finally faced with the – you guessed it – grim facts.
3) None of this, however, is as far-fetched as the suggestion that the American Ambassador to Great Britain could just up and disappear for several days to hunt down ancient Biblical prophecies with a tabloid photographer. Then again, the current Administration was never very keen on diplomacy.
4) Seriously, that kid is creepy as hell.
The new “Omen” boasts the same writer as the original (David Seltzer) and is an almost identical film, right down to the various Damien-related deaths. The atmosphere is less Gothic here, with some location shots beefed up to amplify the weirdness factor. Certain allowances had to be made for current trends, as well (Damien rides a Razor scooter instead of a tricycle in the infamous balcony scene). And Mia Farrow adds an interesting element as the nanny, Mrs. Baylock, where she seems to be working through some of her post-Woody rage issues.

We’re probably not supposed to focus on the incongruity between the American lead performances and those of Postlethwaite, David Thewlis, and Michael Gambon (who makes the most of his three minutes of screen time). Saying Schreiber and Stiles lack the dramatic heft of Peck and Remick is likely to win an Understatement of the Year nomination. Schreiber, playing a character allegedly going through tremendous inner turmoil at the thought of having to murder his son, has a hard time expressing this outside of clenching his impressive jaw muscles. Stiles mostly just seems bored.

In the final conflict analysis, “The Omen” is a perfectly adequate film. You’ll jump a few times, recoil a few more, and stare in awe at Farrow’s disquietingly black eyes. As (almost) shot-for shot remakes go, Hollywood has done much worse.

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