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‘The Rite’ starring Sir Anthony Hopkins fails to exorcise tedium and cliché

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The Rite, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins as a masterful exorcist, is a dismal grab bag of datedSir Anthony Hopkins in 'The Rite.' Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. demon possession tricks.

The world needs another exorcism movie like it needs another bad Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy (which we will be getting next month). What’s even worse is if said exorcism movie turns out to be The Rite, a pastiche of demonic possession clichés topped off with a hammy turn by Hopkins. What’s the point again?

The Rite begins with Michael (Colin O’ Donoghue), a priest in training who’s having serious doubts about his commitment to the church. Finally deciding to leave the seminary, he submits a letter of resignation to Father Matthew (Toby Jones), who promptly calls for a meeting. During their encounter, Matthew basically threatens Michael, slyly noting that if one leaves his/her training before it is complete, the church has the right to turn the entire scholarship fees into student loans.

Father Matthew then proposes Michael humor a diversion before he makes that final break for freedom. Turns out demonic possessions clocked in at a record rate in the past year (who knew), and now the clergy is performing a mass training program to have an exorcist placed at every church throughout the world. He also advises that Father Lucan Trevant (Hopkins), a famous exorcist, will gladly show him the ropes, providing specialized training in the art. Michael reluctantly agrees, and heads off to Rome where the education will take place.

Once in Rome, the skeptical Michael meets Angeline (Alice Braga) a beautiful Italian reporter there to get more information on the latest exorcism craze. He also starts his orientation with Trevant, assisting him in eradicating the demon from a young pregnant girl in the village. Through a series of encounters with the girl, his doubts about the existence of the devil slowly fade away. When Father Trevant starts to show signs of odd behavior and even possession, it’s up to the novice priest to step in and perform the ritual.

Early on in The Rite, Hopkins utters “What were you expecting, pea soup” in reference to the aftermath of an exorcism sequence. It’s an unintentionally funny line, because The Rite has everything but the pea soup. Heads spinning, eyes rolling, bugs swarming, body contortions that would make a yoga master weep. They’re all here. The film delivers an abundance of expected clichés, and that is the first problem. It renders the experience passé and even more pointless. At least Eli Roth’s The Last Exorcism attempted to update the source material for the YouTube generation, fusing some of the classic themes with the modern reality television approach. The Rite is none of that, intentionally old school in its delivery, which is an overall detriment.

The acting is fair for this type of project. Donoghue is very good looking, and offers a decent if slightly dull portrayal of the tired “doubting priest” character. He has some chemistry with the gorgeous Braga, written off in a throwaway role. As for Hopkins, his big possession sequence had much potential, but most of it plays off awkward. Hopkins has a ridiculous over the top intensity, and no doubt still a master at getting under the audience’s skin, but the movie makes the very poor choice of “enhancing” his performance with special effects and voice distortion. That’s a shame, because if director Mikael Hafstrom had just let the pro play at straight, the results would have been terrifying.

The Rite is surrounded by positively lush cinematography, lovingly lingering on the beauty that is Rome. The film also includes a few legitimate freak out moments, but there’s nothing else to see here. By the time the overblown finale arrives, the audience will have likely checked out, along with the demon.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.