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Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Reaping

I got reaped yesterday afternoon at the Essex Cinemas. Reaped, I said. Yes, I was among the first to see the much-delayed epic The Reaping starring Hilary Swank, which has flown into theaters after many postponements (never a good sign) just in time for Easter.

Nothing says “Happy Easter!” to Bible-Belt Christians better than a good ol’ southern tale about swamps and Old Testament pestilence, so danged if director Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space) hasn’t whipped up a heavy syrup of a dessert to go with their double helpings of fire and brimstone at the local tent revival come Sunday.
The Reaping is just drippin’ with bad drawls, stereotypical Big Daddies, barefoot hicks in tarpaper shacks, and, of course, plagues. Lots of plagues.

My grandmother Goldie insists that we are now living in time of the noveau ten plagues of the Old Testament. I’m not sure where in the Old Testament she gets these things, but she is adamant that Britney Spears’ shaving her head is a sign of the plague of lice, as is her marriage to “that illiterate turnip” as Grandma calls K-Fed. She thinks Dick Cheney’s shooting that guy last year showed “friend turning against friend” and that “American Idol” is the utmost in worshipping false gods, especially Fantasia Barrino, who she thinks always looks like she is squatting to take a dump whenever she tries to hit a high note. Of course she also thinks “American Idol” has cursed us with the plague of frogs, explaining the William Hungs and Sanjaya Malakars of the competition. Grandma Goldie also believes that Paris Hilton, Michael Jackson, Nicole Ritchie and Lindsay Lohan are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse as she saw in a vision that came to her one night after drinking too many margaritas at Rainbow Girls social. She also attributes them with delivering upon many the plague of “boils” as she blushingly points “down there” and rolls her eyes when I mention George W., who she blames for the plague of death upon the first-borns. I’m not even going to go there, but Goldie does seem to have a knack for figuring out these things. Maybe I should have brought her with me to see The Reaping.

The Reaping, Dear Readers, practically left me weeping. I could not for the life of me imagine what Hilary Swank was thinking when she signed on to this. The woman has won two Best Actress Academy Awards in the course of five years, for Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby, and in the interim she has taken on a couple of really horrid roles like her brainiac scientist in The Core and her sexpot bisexual heiress in The Black Dahlia. I am beginning to think it is a fluke when she actually ends up with a good script by accident because she will obviously say “yes” to just about anything. I guess that explains the whole marriage to Chad Lowe.

Here she is a former ordained minister, Katherine Winter, who has turned her back on God and
taken to debunking miracles as a profession. I didn’t know there was a market for this and certainly don’t remember seeing any college brochures advertising this as a major, but here she is, traveling around proving that supposed miracles are really science-based quirks. In her off time she teaches at Louisiana State University, promoting her ideas in lectures to dull-looking undergrads. How fortunate then that the latest “miracle” she is recruited to investigate is so close to home, in a back-water town called Haven.

The townspeople of Haven are convinced that a young girl named Loren McConnell (AnnaSophia Robb; Bridge to Terabithia) is responsible for turning the nearby river to blood after somehow killing her older brother Brody without leaving a mark on his body (Mark Lynch, in a dubious debut). Because Katherine had a daughter the same age as Loren who was killed a few years earlier, she feels a kinship to this girl and wants to protect her from a growing mob mentality amongst the town folk that feels Loren needs to be slain to stop the blood in the water from spreading.

In short order things just get worse as the water does indeed show in scientific tests to be human blood ~ three miles of it ~ and suddenly a rain of dead frogs drops down upon Katherine’s assistant Ben (Idris Elba of tv’s “The Wire” ). Next comes a school full of lice-infested kids requiring their heads to be shaved, and Katherine finds herself needing to turn to her faith to figure out what is going on. I wanted to look to my watch to see how much longer we were going to have to wait before someone stopped the action completely to explain the whole story of the Ten Plagues and how they can now be debunked through scientific study. Lucky me. I didn’t have long to wait before we got a mini-lecture with the threat of a pop quiz later, though the quiz wasn’t necessary, of course, because barely adequate CGI provides the visuals as the list unfolds rapidly in the next few minutes.

The whole “Is she or isn’t she?” aspect of the Loren story bogs down the fun of the Apocalypse and confuses the narrative more than helps it. Whether the girl is the Anti-Christ or something else seems much less interesting than the story would have been if it had focused more on character development and less on convoluted cult mysteries. What could have been a harrowing cinematic experience and exploration of a test of faith among a smattering of ordinary souls instead becomes a “Nancy Drew” adventure with soulless cardboard one-dimensional characters being moved along because of pre-determined plot points rather than actual emotional motivation.

The ending, well, the “pre-ending” is so obvious that the supposed twist would have only been a twist had it not really happened, and after the movie is
over it will leave you asking the question of why Katherine was ever recruited into coming to Haven in the first place. If you see the movie, you’ll understand what I mean.

The true “ending” ending is also a bit trite, and worst of all, is a perfect set-up for a sequel. The problem is where do you go from here? You’ve already gone through the plagues. The only thing worse would be making innocent people shell out their money to watch a crummy movie about it, but now that’s been done too. And Jesus wept.

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