Prophecy foretells that “Megiddo,” the Trinity Broadcasting Network-produced sequel to their surprise 1999 hit “The Omega Code,” shall rack up far less box office cash than its forebear. Arriving at a moment that is either grandly fortuitous or extremely inopportune, depending on your point of view, this is apocalyptic gobbledygook in which world leader and media magnate Stone Alexander (Michael York) seeks to christen himself divine ruler of the planet via an odd conflux of charity work and heavy-artillery warfare. Boasting a bigger, more handsomely mounted production, this is also a duller, more sullen affair — it lacks the first film’s kitschy kick — that ultimately seems less likely to draw in non-TBN auds. Still, despite losing 50 of its planned 400 screens due to exhibitor skittishness in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, pic’s fervent niche marketing should make for a decent opening, a few subsequent weeks of OK B.O. traffic and long ancillary life after that.
It’s evident that the screenwriters, Stephan Blinn (who co-authored the original) and John Fasano (who has penned a series of anything-but originals, including the sequels to “48 Hrs.” and “Universal Soldier”), realized that the first entry’s key selling point (aside from its brimstone dogma) was the delirious performance by York. They’ve decided to make him the star this time round (despite the fact that his character, the villain of “Omega,” appeared to die at the end of that film), and he’s also a co-producer. York is such a delicious ham that he’s near the point of hysteria even in the calmest of scenes. He gives the movie a shot of adrenaline, its only real energy.
Pic borrows heavily from the venerable “Omen” series, giving us a 6-year-old Alexander, circa 1960, who already has a devilish behavioral streak (he sets fire to his baby brother’s crib). We then hurtle forward, at breakneck speed, through several decades of Alexander’s coming-of-age.
And despite cheating with a few scenes lifted directly out of “Omega,” Blinn and Fasano essentially bypass the events of the first film, giving the adult Alexander a loyal spouse (Diane Venora, effortlessly Italian and giving her scenes a fullness they don’t really deserve) and a U.S. vice president brother (Michael Biehn), who were never mentioned before. Alexander himself hasn’t just survived “Omega” — it’s as though the climax of that film never happened.
Alexander’s global empire continues, and there’s no mention of the “Bible code” that figured so prominently in the previous pic; slant here is more secular. Alexander is a demonic force to be reckoned with, make no mistake (he turns into a horned, fire-breathing digital effect during the climactic, title battle). But instead of wrestling with the forces of angelic prophets, this time around he has the U.S. military to contend with.
Aside from this, entry follows through in tried-and-true sequel fashion: key plot developments and set pieces from the first film are transplanted into new, cosmetically enhanced settings; events that were only discussed in the original (like the murder of Alexander’s father) are staged here.
For what it’s worth, “Megiddo” is much closer to being a “real” movie than “The Omega Code,” in the sense that it has a more conventional story structure, less overt proselytizing and a more experienced director (British journeyman Brian Trenchard-Smith, stepping in for “Omega’s” Rob Marcarelli). But just because “The Omega Code” was the highest-grossing “Christian film” of all time (and the second highest-grossing indie release of 1999) doesn’t make it (or its sequel) the best or brightest of this crop. Watching “Omega” and “Megiddo,” one wonders what a more effective, serious-minded Christian filmmaker like Richard Dutcher (who made “Brigham City”) might do with these end-time scenarios.
That may be an unfair comparison, considering that “Megiddo” seeks to thrill first and thought-provoke later. But with Trenchard-Smith at the helm, even the movie’s extravagant visual effects and battle sequences come across as more plop-fizz than the intended slam-bang.
Throughout “Megiddo,” many calamitous events befall the world; meteor showers rain on several cities, including Los Angeles, and the final clash of tanks and bombs on a desert battlefield recalls images of Desert Storm. But pic ultimately gives off little sense of real danger — it comes closer to lulling you into a somnambulistic trance — and doesn’t, assurances in the film’s Web site to the contrary, provide “an answer to the question that we did not even know would be asked.”
Despite the two-year gap between films, this follow-up feels rushed and under-imagined — something that all the physical resources in moviedom can’t disguise.