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Orphan

You’re Lost, Little Girl

Rating: 0 out of 5 stars.

Somebody was bound to be offended. As has been widely reported, adoption advocates plan to boycott Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan, which tells the story of a couple who lose their baby and arrange an adoption that turns into a nightmare. Sensitive to such protests, Warner Brothers edited a line out of the movie’s trailer in which the adoptee, nine-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman, formerly a “Tonight Show” extra), questions any parents’ ability to love an adopted child as much as their own.

Needless to say, she makes it difficult. Esther, who might be a second cousin to Rosemary’s baby, is stern-faced beyond her years, with severe features that make her a living image of rage. It’s not hard to read her moods -- those become clear early on, when she bludgeons a pigeon and breaks a classmate’s ankle -- but what’s her beef?

First-time screenwriter David Johnson and Collet-Serra, whose Paris Hilton-powered remake of House of Wax failed to impress, eventually let us in on her dirty secret, and give them some small credit: they’re consistent. The moment of revelation is as preposterous as everything that comes before and after.

I’m not going to waste time discussing the finer points of a story that doesn’t have any, except to pose a pair of questions: If you were racing home to save your family, would you deliberately crash your car into the living room? If trying to escape from a killer, would you rush to greet the police pulling up in your driveway, or would you race into a pitch-black forest and hope for the best?

About the adopting couple, who live on a sprawling estate in upstate Connecticut seemingly designed for deadly accidents: they are played by the gifted Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass, [bGarden State) and Vera Farmiga, a talented performer best remembered as Leonardo DiCaprio’s psychiatrist in The Departed. Here, they are thrust into thankless, one-note roles -- Sarsgaard as an oblivious dolt, Farmiga as a hysterical Cassandra type whose warnings fall on deaf ears. Both should consider finding new agents.

As for Fuhrman, she is ruthlessly effective in a role no child should have been asked to play, and I suppose it’s a giant career leap from playing Girl #2 in a series of “Tonight Show” skits. The real fault lies with the adults who decided Orphan was a movie worth making. The lengthy list of producers includes Joel Silver, of Lethal Weapon fame, and DiCaprio himself -- experienced, intelligent filmmakers. What were they thinking?

Consider the summer’s two worst films, Orphan and Transformers 2. Both are cynical cash grabs, but Transformers, primitive and boorishly constructed though it might be, at least won’t ruin your day. Orphan is a far more competent piece of filmmaking, and quite a bit more unpleasant. It is mean-spirited, brutish, and a thoroughly unwholesome experience. In the end, the people most offended by it will be those who spend money to see it.