By Adam Nayman
Stuffed-animal lovers beware: several very huggable toys are obliterated by shotgun blasts in Child of God, inanimate stand-ins for all the men and women and social institutions that Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) wants to cut down with his crack-shot aim. Blame Cormac McCarthy, whose worst novel (by a mile) has been faithfully adapted here, for the fuzzy symbolism and for the ludicrous parameters of Lester’s character—a lone nut with a fetish for necrophilia, he’s a remnant of an American South that never bought into the Fables of the Reconstruction—but j’accuse James Franco all the same for making a movie out of such a dubious literary property, and for doing such a poor job of it. Everything feels feeble and chancy here, from the portentous and intermittent voiceover narration to the lazily deployed musical score to poor Haze’s horribly directed performance, which never has a chance to build because he’s playing a cartoon mountain-man from shot number one. And while it’s distracting when Herr Director appears in the final reel as a member of a posse trying to bring thrill-killer Lester to justice, the self-casting also proves apposite: the look on Franco’s face as his quarry slowly gets away from him is a pretty apt portrait of the artist as a young man who has no idea what he’s doing here.