Its the End of the World as We Never Knew It

TBN serves up a bland slice of angel food in The Omega Code

In their efforts to entice the heathens into the flock, the Trinity Broadcasting Network—the Christian superstation located a mere brick's throw from the Weekly's offices in Costa Mesa—has brought unto the world plenty of surreal and often gut-bustingly hilarious entertainment. I still laugh myself purple when I remember a bargain-basement Star Trek parody a couple of years ago that pitted a Bible-thumpin' Enterprise crew against a band of Satanist Klingons . . . in a heavy metal battle of the bands! It was a spectacle so wrong in every particular that it broke through to that level of perfect horribleness that Ed Wood achieved only rarely—when he was working at the very top of his form.

Every night of the week, TBN offers much for trash hounds to admire—Jan Crouch's towering pile of pewter-colored hair is always a joy—but few things have gladdened my black little heart like the recent news that TBN was bankrolling an entire motion picture. I tell you, it was almost enough to restore one's faith in God.

I wish I could report that The Omega Code is a masterpiece of badness, but the sorry truth is that the film is a tragically adequate little thriller, 31/2 stars all the way. The story follows the exploits of Stone Alexander (Michael York), a tycoon who is using modern technology to crack the Omega Code—secret prophecies that are allegedly buried in the text of the Bible. With these prophecies to guide him, Alexander brings peace to the world, feeds the hungry, etc. Although Alexander seems like Mr. Swell Guy, he's actually the Beast spoken of in Revelation, and his actions are fated to bring about the End Times.

The fate of the world rests in the hands of Dr. Gillen Lane (the blandly competent Casper Van Dien, who looks like a superhero's alter ego), a wildly successful, Tony Robbins-ish motivational speaker who turned his back on religion following a family tragedy when he was a tot.

As you may have guessed by now, I have yet to find Jesus. I'm an atheist, with a minor in agnosticism. (Hey, for all I know, the ancient Egyptians had it right, and the world really is the product of one of Amen's private stroke sessions. In this big crazy world, I don't discount anything.) For me, the events that unfold in The Omega Code are pure sci-fi—light on the sci, heavy on the fi. On the other hand, I don't have to believe in little gray guys with anal probes to enjoy a good episode of The X-Files.

The Omega Code works reasonably well as an Omen-style religious thriller, and that was how I enjoyed it. It only rarely degenerates into the airless, Sunday-school preachiness one dreads in a project like this, and it has some really neat explosions and stuff; that's particularly impressive in light of a budget that some estimates put in the $7 million range, the kind of change that wouldn't pay wardrobe costs for the next Will Smith picture.

The performances are all fine, with the standout being Michael York, who is quite spooky as the Baddest of all Badasses. There's always something inexplicably heartening about York's appearances onscreen; maybe it's leftover childhood affection for Logan's Run, but I rejoice when he gets hold of a plum role and cringe when he's saddled with a bum project. He hasn't been a superstar since his peculiar good looks faded many seasons ago, but he still gets a lot of work (in 1998, he appeared in nine movies and a video game) and he never fails to make the most of whatever opportunities he's given. The Omega Code isn't a shining credit for his résumé, but it gives him a chance to stretch while he waits by the phone for Mike Myers to call with that inevitable Austin Powers III gig.

While I basically enjoyed the film, it has its problems, and some of 'em are screaming lulus. There's one bizarre plot digression that proceeds for some time before it suddenly evaporates and is explained away as a dream. I'm guessing that with a budget so small, the filmmakers had to find a use for every damn frame they shot, whether it belonged in the picture or not. There's also the little matter of the Omega Code itself. Apparently some folks take this biblical crossword-puzzle stuff quite seriously, but the evidence the film uses to support it is some of the wackiest shit I've heard in ages. The Bible is supposed to have predicted the death of Princess Di? Please! Would the Almighty really think a celebrity car crash important enough that he'd warn us about it in his sacred texts? With dazzling prognostication skills like those, perhaps God could get a gig in the pages of The National Enquirer.

Sadly, such bizarro touches are all too rare in The Omega Code. I went in seeking junk food, and I got Kix. Actually, my favorite part of the whole screening was during the previews, when I was treated to an ad for the Anna Nicole Smith/George Takei thriller Blow'd Up, a $50 million epic that has Anna bouncing around in Barb Wire dominatrix gear, trying to save the world from exploding hamburgers. It looked so perfectly wretched that it had me on the edge of my seat, practically drooling with anticipation . . . until the punch line, which revealed that the whole thing was merely a masterfully silly commercial for E-Trade.

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