Detractors of remakes often complain that the films which are frequently chosen for remaking are all too often the films considered classics, and that a more logical approach to the concept might be to instead rework the failed aspects of promising films that somehow didn't manage to live up to expectation. Though indeed counted as a landmark effort by horror fans who prefer their terror served with a side order of hellfire and brimstone, Richard Donner's effective-but-flawed 1976 original may have served as a prime candidate for such a reworking had director John Moore and company been interested in actually making an effort. Sadly for fright fans, what instead emerges is a lazy, uninspired trip down familiar-looking roads driven by a well-timed marketing gimmick, liberally peppered with clichéd, "awoken from a nightmare" shock cuts, and weighed down by a glowering Antichrist whose constant facial distortions frequently send scenes that should be horrific and disquieting careening dangerously toward the camp ground. A near line-by-line appropriation of original scribe David Seltzer's 30-year-old screenplay does little to improve upon the original, shifting the setting into the modern era but failing to address such potentially compelling issues as why the concerned mother places herself in the care of a professional and never considers the prospect of extending the same courtesy to her presumably troubled son; it's also hard to remain convinced when one scene finds the defeated father -- having just discovered the horrific remains of his murdered biological son -- realizing that the evil Antichrist whom he has raised as his own must be destroyed before blubbering, "He's only a child!" not five minutes later. Of course, anyone attempting to follow in the footsteps of the late, great Gregory Peck will certainly find himself facing an uphill battle, and lead Liev Schreiber does a commendable job with the task until becoming hopelessly hampered by the script somewhere near the two-thirds mark, leaving the viewer to relish in the scenery-chewing antics of veterans Pete Postlethwaite and Michael Gambon. Sure, Soul Plane cinematographer Jonathan Sela's deeply saturated lens lends the whole endeavor just the right amount of class needed to accentuate the ominous European landscapes and architecture, giving the film a convincingly worldly feel, but by the time his camera begins flailing in a seemingly epileptic fit during a key chase scene in Rome, even the photography begins to reek of desperation. It's difficult to imagine how a film with such a powerful central concept being told in such a historically turbulent time could wind up being so excruciatingly dull, but one could only hope that if filmmakers choose to carry on with the story in the same manner as 1978's Damien: The Omen II and 1981's The Final Conflict they'll dig a little deeper for inspiration and not simply rely on a clever marketing campaign to scare up ticket sales.
by Jason Buchanan review