This 'Order' will put you to sleep
Another weekend, another dreary horror film. This week, there's "The Order," a stupendous bore about a priest going toe to toe with a Catholic sin-eater, who cleanses the dying of their dirty deeds. Twenty-five years ago, the film would have starred George C. Scott as the kind of priest you could count on to devour the generic scenery and overcooked screenwriting with a knife and fork, his voice hoarse from all the Acting.
"The Order" just gives us the somnambulant stylings of Australia's Heath Ledger, who appears to have wandered in from a Strokes concert. He's believable neither as a priest nor as an actor. But he's quite convincing as someone who likes his wispy facial hair and enjoys being paid to memorize Latin and Aramaic. Both come in handy as Ledger's Father Alex Bernier runs around Rome trying to decipher clues that explain why his mentor has turned up dead. The church has ruled the death a suicide and excommunicated him -- though more for being of a heretic order than for being a basket case.
But Alex can see from the bruises on the corpse's chest that the mentor didn't die by his own hand. And he's right. For one thing, there's that sin-eater (Benno Furmann) preying on people's guilty consciences by inhaling their iniquities. For another, there's director Brian Helgeland's brick of a script, which, if thrown hard enough, would kill anybody, too.
Take the scene where Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), Alex's monotone ex-love, suddenly returns to his empty parish, having escaped from the loony bin just in time to accompany him to Rome. His first words to her are romantic: "When did they release you?" Hers, as you might infer, are psychotic. "I want to paint sunflowers," she drones, "but I didn't have the guts. Do you think I'm crazy?"
Given what happened at their last meeting (at an exorcism Alex was performing), this reunion makes him leery. "You won't try to kill me this time?" he asks. "Cross my heart and hope to die," she replies. Great, now that that's settled: Baby, let's go slay some demons!
If only this movie were that sort of sexy, stupid fun. Instead, we get shelves of church chat between Alex and the aforementioned sin-eater, who, by the way, looks fantastic in his bespoke velvet suit. (When you have to wash somebody's soul, do it in style!)
And as they confess to each other, we discover that the two have a lot in common. One's a rogue saint; the other's a "rogue priest" -- which, given Alex's gun-toting at the end, must be as exciting as being a rogue cop.
But what's the movie's point? And where is the horror? The closest "The Order" comes to the latter is the appearance of Peter Weller as a figure of Catholic corruption and the boy-man who stands beside Weller's throne in a sequined cocktail dress.
Helgeland must have tricked Ledger, Sossamon, and Mark Addy, who plays a fellow priest, into making "The Order" back in 2001, while they were sipping mead on the set of "First Knight." If you can believe it, Helgeland is the same guy who adapted "L.A. Confidential," and he seems to have a mind for crooked authority. But here he beats up on the Catholic Church with the same brainless zeal and pointless histrionics as such Grade F noisemakers as "Lost Souls" and "Stigmata." They're turning a halfway entertaining cult genre into blasphemy.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.