Watch out, demons. Father Hopkins is here, and he doesn’t play by the rules. His cassock is rumpled and undone, he’s a relentless cat hoarder and he answers his cell phone in the middle of his exorcisms. Yeah, bet you’ll be surprised when he pulls that phone out and you discover that your demonic antics aren’t the center of attention anymore. That’ll teach you to possess people.
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This playful anecdote isn’t just a short snippet of “The Rite,” but a summary of the whole film’s attitude toward the practice of exorcism. The current demand for exorcists in the Catholic Church is as high as ever, and this film is a pitiful, irreverent homage to their sacred duties, regardless of whether you believe the symptoms of possession are spiritual or not.
Young adult Michael Kovak (newcomer Colin O’Donoghue) decides to leave his father’s mortuary practice to attend seminary. When his doubts lead him away from priesthood, a chain reaction causes a young woman’s untimely death and a crisis of faith. At the behest of one of the seminary’s priests, Kovak gives spirituality one last chance and leaves America for a two-month stint as an exorcist’s apprentice in Rome.
It’s hard not to suspect that several of the scenes depicting a timid Kovak and his father working with cadavers were directly plagiarized from HBO’s “Six Feet Under.” The film finally starts to pick up and show some promise and originality in the second act, but eventually disappoints in the end with a textbook wrap-up.
Fortunately, “The Rite” has a savior. Sir Anthony Hopkins does a wonderful job as Father Lucas Trevant, an experienced exorcist whose tenacious, unchecked pursuit of demons leads to a disturbing final standoff between Kovak and the devil himself. But brilliant as it is, the performance is strewn in small bits throughout the film, and can’t compensate for the otherwise-lackluster acting.
Granted, a priest was supposedly present on the set of the movie, which lends credence to the possession scenes. The fact that the script is adapted from a book with real-life accounts doesn’t hurt, either. But you’ll be surprised at how many liberties it takes with the narrative direction. One minute someone’s possessed; the next, dead. Then someone halfway across the world dies. Then someone else becomes possessed. Then another person, but this time it’s not a demon, it’s Satan himself. Preposterous storytelling.
It’s a tasteless Devil’s stew — a hodgepodge of cinematic components have been wantonly dumped into a boiling pot, but everyone’s simply too lazy to mix it all together. What you inevitably get in return is a chunky mess of a movie with a plot that meanders so lazily from beat to beat that we can’t appreciate any real progression. Several riveting moments in the narrative bolster the sense of excitement, but a 110-minute film can’t sustain itself without plenty of good content, and “The Rite” ambles along far too lazily to be a good film. This adaptation from one man’s real life account of priesthood could do so much more with such a weathered veteran of thriller/drama films, but it trades talent for amateurism and a typical Hollywood ending. “The Rote” would’ve been a better title.