In an otherwise bright summer filled with dragon trainers, transforming robots and ninja turtles, here comes “Deliver Us From Evil” – like a dead cat floating in the punch bowl.
The horror movie has a couple of things going for it: A solid cast that works well together, and almost no competition. Horror films with R ratings, a staple during the fall and late winter months, seem to hibernate during the summer blockbuster season.
But it’s hard to like much else about this film, which does little to differentiate itself in the normally busy “inspired by a true story” exorcism genre. At best, it will be remembered as “that exorcism movie with Eric Bana.” More likely, “that exorcism movie where everyone has a bad New York accent.”
Bana is Ralph Sarchie, an otherwise skeptical New York cop who gets drawn into a paranormal investigation. Like everyone in “Deliver Us From Evil,” the Australian Bana sounds as if he was informed of his character’s dialect exactly 20 minutes before the film started shooting. After some strange behavior at the Bronx Zoo, Sarchie hooks up with a hard-drinking priest named Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), and the pair investigate the source of an evil that is starting to consume both men’s lives.
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You could swing a dead cat – this movie does, twice – and find a cliché in every scene. What child has a vintage mechanical jack-in-the-box in their room in the year 2014? The kid in this movie owns one, and it has a scary clown inside. Nobody thinks to move out of their haunted apartment in “Deliver Us From Evil.” And no police officer ever calls for backup.
The mostly cheap scares are telegraphed by an overbearing musical score, and usually involve something suddenly popping onto the screen. Sometimes it’s that scary woman with stringy hair you find in every horror movie these days. Sometimes it’s just the cat. After the jack-in-the-box, the cat is the second thing homeowners should immediately get rid of once their house gets possessed.
Amid the predictable turns, there are a few enjoyable moments. Director/co-writer Scott Derrickson doesn’t shy away from humor, effectively using comedian Joel McHale (just back from the weight room, and sporting impressive guns) to lighten the mood as Sarchie’s partner. Martinez as Mendoza makes for a hot priest, with plenty of swagger. He’s our new first choice for a “The Thorn Birds” remake.
And the exorcism itself isn’t a letdown. If you like movies where creepy guys carve Latin phrases into their body and let the blood coagulate, this is your “Casablanca.”
Despite his butchered accent, at least Bana seems to be trying. There should be an awards show for actors who make an honest effort in bad movies. Nicolas Cage gets the first lifetime achievement honors.