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the-rite252882529If there was an after-school special about exorcism “The Rite” would be it. Its earnest, has a message and there’s even a teenage pregnancy angle.

Based on the book “The Making of a Modern Exorcist,” “The Rite” is the story of Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) a seminary student weeks away from graduation and taking his vows. The trouble is, he isn’t a believer. He went to the seminary to get out of the family business—his Dad’s (Rutger “Hobo with a Shotgun” Hauer) mortuary. The men in his family, he says only have two career options—caring for the dead or joining the priesthood.  When he tries to opt out of taking his vows an older priest arranges for him to go to Rome and study exorcism, a sure way, the priest thinks, to reaffirm Michael’s faith. In Italy he meets Father Lucas, a veteran priest and expert in exorcism, who leads his student into a wild satanic showdown.

The holy man with a crisis-of-faith is by now a standard exorcism movie character. We’ve seen it as recently as last year’s “The Last Exorcism” and we’ve seen it done with more spirit (no pun intended) than O’Donoghue conjures up here. Luckily he has Anthony Hopkins, master thespian and expert scenery-chewer to keep things lively. Quick! Somebody get Hopkins some mustard to go along with the ham he’s selling here.

As Father Lucas he’s got the movies best lines and has no problem giving them with gusto. It’s an unexpected performance and rather entertaining.

The movie, however, isn’t trying as hard as Hopkins. It’s not scary, occasionally freaky, but not scary. When Father Lucas asks, “What’d you expect? Spinning heads and pea soup?” I wanted to shout, “Actually, yes Father, I do!” An exorcism movie without those elements is, well, sinful.

Worse than that, “The Rite” is at least twenty minutes too long. It s-l-o-w-l-y builds to an entertaining final exorcism, but the subplot about a pregnant “possessee” goes on too long and the inclusion of a demon mule (seriously) take the focus away from where it belongs—on the relationship between Michael and Father Lucas. That older priest, younger priest thing worked really well in “The Exorcist” and could have here as well, if only the movie was a tad more interesting.

“The Rite” aspires to be a high-minded story about faith but falls flat when Hopkins isn’t on screen. There’s little sympathy for this devil…

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