May 12, 2004 at 12:00 am

A man is running through an alley with a gift-wrapped box under his arm when he is accosted by two thugs who want his money. The man recognizes one of his assailants as one of his former high school biology students. The mugger’s face softens as he quietly says, “Yeah, you were one of my favorite teachers.” The mugger then turns to his snarling buddy and says something like, “Let’s go, man. He’s cool.”

What? In what universe could this happen? To set the stage of Godsend with such an utterly phony scene, director Nick Hamm practically begs you not to like his film. He doesn’t stop there, unfortunately. Besides one of the most blatantly derivative and stupid scripts ever written, Hamm is going to go down in history for allowing Robert De Niro to give one of the absolute worst performances of his long and brilliant career.

Sure, De Niro has been in some pretty lame stuff. But there was always a glimmer of his genius under whatever poorly written or poorly directed vehicle he appeared in. Not so in Godsend. He stinks to high heaven. Greg Kinnear, the one-time host of the popular cable show, Talk Soup, and now a pretty accomplished actor, actually outshines De Niro. Again, I ask you, in what universe could this happen?

Well, it happens in the hopelessly cliché and depressingly predictable universe of Godsend, a film whose premise is the repercussions of an illegal and potentially immoral cloning procedure. The biology teacher who escaped a robbery because he was “cool” is Paul Duncan, played by Kinnear. He’s married to Jessie, played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (who gets to be real un-model-like by not wearing makeup and crying a lot), a professional photographer (yeah, OK) and the mother of Adam (get it? Adam? sheesh), a son they love so much it will make you sick. They call him “kiddo” and “champ” and hug him and kiss him and never yell at him. Translation? He’s going to die soon. Which he does.

Enter the brilliant Dr. Richard Wells, played by De Niro, who hectors the grieving couple while they are making funeral arrangements. He wants to “help” them by cloning perfect Adam at his clinic (you ready for this?), The Godsend Institute. Normally he just does in-vitros and such, but he really wants to help the Duncans. Why does he care so much? Why does he offer them a mansion on the lake and jobs and plenty of pseudo-scientific lectures? Because he’s got something up his sleeve, wouldn’t ya know!

The Duncans bite, and soon another “Adam” is born. This Adam starts to have some thoroughly un-scary and Sixth Sense problems after turning 8 years old. Hmmmm, is the good doctor not telling the Duncans something? Please, don’t find out. Walk away. I’m warning you.

Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].