John Moore's remake of Richard Donner's 1976 thriller The Omen is timely not only because of its release on 6/6/06, but because it comes on the heels of The Da Vinci Code. "The sequence of events has been successfully interpreted," intones a Vatican researcher. 9/11 and the Columbia tragedy are among previously unidentified signs of the Apocalypse, as escorted by devil-child Damien.
The new film is, I suppose, a textbook instruction in the modern Hollywood remake. Start with savvy deja vu casting. Hmmm...who's a modern Gregory Peck? Liev Schreiber! Julia Stiles replaces Lee Remick, David Warner morphs into David Thewlis, Leo McKern becomes Michael Gambon: you get the idea. Add sharp production value and predictably amp up the action, and voilà! Richard Donner who?
Schreiber and Julia Stiles play Robert and Katherine Thorn, the unfortunate adoptive parents of Damien (pouty, eye-narrowing Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). As the U.S. ambassador to Britain (and the President's godson), Robert Thorn is a well-positioned patsy for the ascent of the Anti-Christ through political channels. But when a crazed-sounding priest (Pete Postlethwaite) sounds the alarm, Thorn begins to suspect his child, who—yup!—turns out to be a murderous li'l bastard. In a bit of campy stunt casting (for those familiar with Rosemary's Baby or her history of adoptions), Mia Farrow plays Mrs. Baylock, the governess, with a frozen smile and creepy line readings that drip with corn syrup.
Unfortunately, well-compensated actors and competent filmmaking fail to justify this artistically pointless remake. The original may be dated, but that's not enough of a reason to remake The Omen (already the red-headed stepchild of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist) without bothering to change the plot. Anything would help, even a simple switcheroo on the fates of the parents. But Moore is so faithful, story beat for story beat, as to drain the life out of a story that should generate surprise.
Instead, Moore makes a few cosmetic additions here and there: an extra death scene in the film's first minutes, more kick to Thorn's fight with Baylock, and a random dig against terrorists (Thorn opines of Gambon's archeologist, "Like every other religious fanatic, he believes that arcane scripture justifies killing"). Moore also adds an ironic allusion when the Thorns go to the opera—Salome, with its infamous beheading and talk of the coming of Christ—but the 2006 Omen more commonly brings to mind Final Destination (which may have learned its Rube Goldberg deaths from Donner's film) and Gus Van Sant's catchy but also pointless Psycho.
Given that the film's target audience probably hasn't seen the original, the remake is perhaps a good business decision. If you've never seen The Omen, the technically well-made remake is an effective chiller a cut above today's standard, but if you have, there's no reason to watch this rote replay.