The phrase "preaching to the converted" acquires a new meaning with "The Omega Code," an apocalyptic melodrama produced under the auspices of the Trinity Broadcasting Network and aimed primarily at those who enjoy the cable web's brand of evangelical Pentecostal programming. Pic could conceivably attract flocks of the faithful to megaplexes during its opening weekend of limited theatrical release.

The phrase “preaching to the converted” acquires a new meaning with “The Omega Code,” an apocalyptic melodrama produced under the auspices of the Trinity Broadcasting Network and aimed primarily at those who enjoy the cable web’s brand of evangelical Pentecostal programming. Given TBN’s hard-sell promotional activities, including tie-ins with various churches and Bible-study groups, pic could conceivably attract flocks of the faithful to megaplexes during its opening weekend of limited theatrical release. But “Omega” likely will find its largest audience in the afterlife of ancillary markets — video, cable and nontheatrical exhibition.

According to the production notes, producer Matthew Crouch conceived the film — along with his father, TBN chief Paul Crouch — as “a fictionalized dramatization of the ‘end times’ prophecies” found in the Book of Revelation. The screenplay by Stephen Blinn and Hollis Barton also involves the so-called Bible Code, a highly controversial (and, in some eyes, theologically dubious) theory that calls for applying mathematical equations to uncover “hidden truths” throughout other chapters of the Good Book.

Trouble is, most mainstream ticketbuyers, Christian or otherwise, will have a hard time making sense of a pic that is by turns laughably simplistic and confoundingly muddled as it charts the “final battle” between good and evil.

Those in the know may experience pleasing shocks of recognition as they note the pointed allusions — a horse of the Apocalypse here, a rebuilding of the temple there, along with various references to seven seals and charismatic Antichrists. (To appreciate their joy, imagine the pleasure of a movie buff who recognizes, say, the Hitchcock homages in Brian De Palma’s oeuvre, or the references to “The 400 Blows” in Frank Whaley’s “Joe the King.”) But all this window dressing is little more than the Pentecostal equivalent of inside jokes.

And none of it disguises the fact that “The Omega Code” is a ham-handed, flat-footed B movie that makes “The Omen” look like “Citizen Kane.” This is the kind of literal-minded melodrama in which a TV news reporter helpfully introduces key characters as “the beloved media mogul turned political dynamo” (Michael York as Stone Alexander) and “the world-famous, globetrotting Gillen Lane” (Casper Van Dien).

Lane turned his back on traditional religion at the age of 10, when his devoutly Christian mother died in an auto mishap. Now he’s a wildly successful motivational speaker and bestselling author who dismisses God as just another myth. Naturally, he’s overdue for a road-to-Damascus experience.

Alexander — whose cable news network, it should be noted, has a logo that suspiciously resembles a pentagram — is internationally famous as a philanthropic do-gooder who wants to unite all nations in peace, love and commonly shared currency. To fulfill his ambitions, he has employed henchmen to steal a CD-ROM disc that contains the Bible Code, which he wants to use for nefarious purposes. In this, he is aided by Dominic (Michael Ironside), an ex-priest who is bitterly jealous when Alexander recruits Lane as his chief aide and adviser.

Lane starts to have hallucinatory visions — apocalyptic horses, hooded monks, etc. — and discovers the Bible Code disc in Alexander’s underground computer center. Much of the pic focuses on Lane’s fugitive flight from authorities after he’s framed as Alexander’s would-be assassin. As he tries to locate a missing page from a murdered rabbi’s notebook — which, of course, contains the final pieces of the Bible Code — Alexander consolidates his power as the first Chancellor of the United World.

Climax is a straight steal from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” with ghostly figures making mincemeat of the bad guys. Apparently, this is meant to signal the rapture, or the end of the world, or something equally profound. But the audience doesn’t know for certain because, instead of concluding, the pic simply stops.

Director Rob Marcarelli keeps the pace brisk, often at the expense of offering a coherent narrative. Except for York, who generously shares the joy he takes in hammily portraying a cunning Antichrist, performances range from barely competent to stunningly awful. Van Dien’s amateurishly overstated turn is nothing short of embarrassing. Catherine Oxenberg is slightly more bearable, if only because she has relatively little to do as a TV newscaster who figures in the plot. Jan Triska and Gregory Wagrowski pop up periodically as apparently angelic (and bulletproof) prophets.

On a tech level, “The Omega Code” manages the near-miraculous feat of appearing cheap and expensive all at once. Location lensing in Italy, Israel and Los Angeles is thoroughly professional, but some of the f/x sequences are on the chintzy side.

The Omega Code

(THRILLER)

Production

A Providence Entertainment release of a TBN Films presentation of a Gener8Xion Entertainment production. Produced by Matthew Crouch, Rob Marcarelli, Lawrence Mortorff. Executive producer, Paul Crouch. Co-producer, Gary M. Bettman. Directed by Rob Marcarelli. Screenplay, Stephan Blinn, Hollis Barton.

Crew

Camera (FotoKem color), Carlos Gonzalez; editor, Peter Zinner; music, Harry Manfredini; production designer, Mark Harper; set decorator, Jen Tauritz; sound (Dolby THX), David Waelder; special effects coordinator, Ron Trost; biblical prophecy consultant, Hal Lindsey; associate producer, Blinn; assistant director, Nick Goodwin Self. Reviewed at Loews Cineplex Fountains Theater, Houston, Oct. 15, 1999. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Gillen Lane - Casper Van Dien Stone Alexander - Michael York Cassandra Barashe - Catherine Oxenberg Dominic - Michael Ironside Prophet No. 1 - Jan Triska Prophet No. 2 - Gregory Wagrowski Jennifer Lane - Devon Odessa Sir Percival Lloyd - William Hootkins Shimoro Lin Che - Robert Ito Dorothy Thompson - Janet Carroll Sen. Jack Thompson - George Coe General - Robert F. Lyons
Camera (FotoKem color), Carlos Gonzalez; editor, Peter Zinner; music, Harry Manfredini; production designer, Mark Harper; set decorator, Jen Tauritz; sound (Dolby THX), David Waelder; special effects coordinator, Ron Trost; biblical prophecy consultant, Hal Lindsey; associate producer, Blinn; assistant director, Nick Goodwin Self. Reviewed at Loews Cineplex Fountains Theater, Houston, Oct. 15, 1999. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 99 MIN.
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