The latest of at least a dozen widely released American movies in half as many years with demonic possession a major plot point, The Rite introduces the exorcist—here, Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins, disarmingly distracted, softly authoritative, and given to prancing when the role takes a bipolar turn)—as a workaday, house-calls healer tending to the daily needs of Roman families. The plot is propelled by Lucas' initiation of a young American apostate, Michael (Colin O'Donoghue), into the brotherhood of exorcists. Initial efforts to defamiliarize the material stop well before Michael has stepped up for his part in a climactic spiritual tug-of-war. O'Donoghue doesn't demonstrate the authority to throw someone out of his house, much less dispel Satan's minions; his nemesis demon comes off as a nasty older sister. Director Mikael Håfström's foot- dragging pace makes a pretense of intent character study, but Michael's spiritual trials are occluded by a patchy screenplay. As Michael clings to his skepticism before manifestations of the inexplicable, The Rite never brings the viewer onto his seesaw of doubt. His motivations remain arbitrary and inscrutable, right down to his entry into the seminary. This is brought up by a number of characters, who interpret his implausible career decision as A Sign. It is—of bad writing.
Hopkins fights the B-movie curse.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Jan. 28. Rated PG-13. 112 minutes.