'The Rite' (PG-13)

 

Satan just won't take the hint and stay away

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By Roger Moore, The Orlando Sentinel

Thirty minutes into the exorcism thriller, The Rite, Anthony Hopkins shows up. And for this performance, playing a grizzled, whimsical Welsh exorcist plying his trade in the working class back alleys of Rome, Sir Tony packed the prosciutto.

This isn’t just ham, served with a side of fava beans and a little Chianti. This is the good stuff, a hint of Hannibal Lecter in white collar, questioning the faith of the young cleric sent to study with him, testing him, hissing at him, waiting for a knock at the door.

"Speak of the Devil," he cracks. And when Father Lucas shows young Michael (Colin O’Donoghue) his first demonic possession and interrupts the prayer he says over a suffering girl to take a cellphone call, you can feel the wink the old Oscar winner is sending our way, even as his back is turned.

But if Hopkins is fine Italian ham on the hoof, the movie’s heavy lifting is done by a guinea pig. The little-known Irish actor O’Donoghue is so stunningly uncharismatic that he kills whatever possibilities this picture (from the director of the silly-scary-smart 1408) had.

Michael (O’Donoghue) is the son of a mortician whose father (the under-utilized Rutger Hauer) taught him the trade by letting him watch the embalming of his own mother. Michael has no faith, but a tragic accident at the end of his seminary training at St. Osmond’s (make your own Donny and Marie joke here) wins him a trip to Rome to study exorcism with Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds). And Xavier sends He of Little Faith to Father Lucas for a little Devil-in-the-flesh proof. Lucas engages the kid in theological debates as he drags him along to deal with a troubled boy and then a pregnant teen certain she is carrying Satan’s seed.

Alice Braga shows up as a reporter hanging out around Exorcism U., sniffing for a story and perhaps tempting our not-really-a-priest. But Michael begins to have his doubts about his lack of belief when he hears speaking in tongues, insults only he can understand. And one victim starts spitting up nails from "the True Cross."

Director Mikael Hafstrom, working from a Michael Petroni script, tries an arty approach, framing shots behind dangling rosary beads, delivering vivid flashbacks and hallucinations that give Michael pause. The effects — of course there are body-contorting effects — are sharper than what you saw in The Last Exorcism and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. But frights? Not so many.

Only Hopkins, readily referencing his bag of tricks, seems to get what to make of this "inspired by true events (and a book by Matt Baglio)" hooey. He plays it light until the big confrontation scenes, where he trots out Hannibal in everything but name. Swap "Clarice" for "Michael" in these Satanic interrogations, and the ham makes you think of lambs, silent lambs. And fava beans.

Cast: Colin O’Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins, Alice Braga, Ciaran Hinds, Rutger Hauer, Toby Jones.

Director: Mikael Hafstrom.

Writer: Michael Petroni. Based on the book by Matt Baglio.

Producers: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson.

A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 110 minutes. Disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images and language including sexual references. Opens Friday Jan. 28 at: area theaters.

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