Grade: F

“Something bad is going to happen,” young Adam Duncan (Cameron Bright)) tells his dad Paul (Greg Kinnear) at a pivotal moment in this psychological thriller. As it turns out, he’s talking about the movie, which is so not scary that it’s positively frightening–and not in a good sense. In “Godsend” Robert De Niro, who once was Frankenstein’s monster (in Kenneth Branagh’s floridly inept 1994 retelling of Mary Shelley’s story), plays what’s essentially a modern version of the good doctor himself–one of those brilliant mad-scientist types who insists on pushing forward the frontiers of medical knowledge against all the norms of his profession, with inevitably dire results. In this case the character is Dr. Richard Wells, a former professor who’s plowed the fortune his genetic research made him into a fertility institute. Wells, it turns out, is also into cloning, and he approaches Paul and Jessie Duncan (Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), a distraught New York City couple who have just lost their beloved eight-year old son in a terrible accident, with an offer to hustle them off to his rustic clinic and impregnate her with a cell drawn from the dead boy that will result in the birth of a “new Adam,” identical to their son in every respect. (The couple are willing to consider the offer, which involves relocation and a whole new life to avoid the law, because she can’t have any more children herself.)

With predictable speed, the story moves ahead eight years, and the reborn Adam begins acting strangely: he’s alternately dazed, terrified by visions of some mysterious child, and hostile. Paul begins to suspect that he’s suffering from memories of his earlier life, transferred to him through a genetic link. Wells dismisses the idea, but seems to be hiding something, especially when Adam appears to be periodically possessed by the spirit of a boy named Zachary, whose unhappy history Paul tracks down (in a sequence that takes the script to new depths of implausibility and foolishness). Things close with a succession of supposedly surprising turns, each dumber than the last, and an especially silly twist ending with “Omen” overtones.

Mark Bombeck’s script is pretty much a reworking of the creaky old horror premise employed in such pictures as “The Hands of Orlac” (redone as “Mad Love” in 1935) and John Carpenter’s
“The Eyes of Laura Mars,” except that cloning has replaced transplantation as the medical medium of choice to implant one person’s psyche into another. But the third act throws in a dollop of “The Bad Seed” (which was more recently recast as “The Good Son”) as well. The mixture is at once derivative and more than a little ridiculous, and it certainly isn’t performed with sufficient zest or spookiness to pass muster. Mark Hamm’s direction is, if you’ll forgive the pun, ham-fisted, employing all the mustiest of genre tropes and cheap shocks in a failed effort to generate suspense and excitement; whatever he does, though, the thing just lies inert on the screen. Kinnear and Romijn-Stamos go through the motions of being devastated, concerned and frightened, but they never manage to engender any sympathy, and young master Bright is so creepy even at the beginning of the picture, when he’s supposed to be a perfectly ordinary eight-year old, that his later transformation carries very little punch. As for De Niro, he’s really slumming here. He gets by the in first hour or so, when required just to be vaguely sinister, but in the last part of the movie, when Dr. Wells turns out to be a lot more than was earlier suggested, he chews the scenery far too liberally for his own good. Overplaying like this might work in a farce like “Analyze This,” but a bit of subtlety would be a better choice here. Nobody else in the cast makes any impression whatever, and the production, while decent enough, is nothing special: Kramer Morgenthau’s cinematography tries desperately for some Shyamalan-style eeriness, but the effort is wasted, and Brian Tyler’s score depends on all the usual cliches.

Among the long roster of producers and executive producers listed for the picture–a full baker’s dozen, by my count–one will find the name of Mark Cuban, the millionaire dude who not only owns the Dallas Mavericks but is about to become the Donald Trump-like star of a reality TV series. Maybe he’ll enjoy some success in those ventures, but as as far as the movie business goes, he’s really flopped with “Godsend.” Just stamp it as you would a piece of unwanted mail: Return to sender.