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Starring Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Shannyn Sossamon, Peter Weller and Benno Fürmann. Directed, written and produced by Brian Helgeland. A Fox release. Supernatural thriller. Rated R for violent images, sexuality and language. Running time: 102 min.
"The Order will find you," warns the tagline. Not if they're looking in theatres screening this annoyingly boring and nonsensical would-be paranormal thriller, they won't. Not to mention that the members of the referenced Order are on the side of good and aren't actually even looking for anyone. Well, at one point they track down a guy who may or may not be evil. If that's who the PR department was talking about, that's a pretty specific demographic to target a marketing campaign toward.
In their defense, the publicity flacks, with their misleadingly alarmist catchphrase and trailers glutted with gothic images, are presenting the movie people might have wanted to see, instead of the muddled theosophical ponderousness "The Order" actually is.
The Order is a dwindling band of archaic priests, fore among them hunky, brooding Alex (Heath Ledger) and pragmatic, good-humored Thomas (Mark Addy), who seek out arcane knowledge and, it's later casually mentioned, are sworn to "dispatch ghosts, demons and all manner of undead," as Thomas helpfully informs the audience in the guise of reminding Alex. Now that sounds like an exhilarating premise--"The Exorcist" meets "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." But such potential adventures are squandered as barely-sketched backstory. Instead, the Order uneventfully discovers the existence of a Sin Eater, William Eden (Benno Furmann), a philosophy-blathering, overly-tweezed pseudo-immortal who magically ingests the wrongdoings of others so that they can get into heaven. (Fun fact: Sins look like gooey transparent jellyfish when exiting the body.) He offers his services both to good people who have done things that aren't that horrible but are still in violation of the Church's rigid laws, as well as to unrepentant sinners willing to pay handsomely. So the logic of this film depends on the belief in a god that would judge based on earthly doctrine rather than the true nature of the soul in question, and would be fooled by the Sin Eater loophole for all these centuries. Then there's the bit where Eden tries to convince Alex to take over the Sin Eating legacy, which would mean damning himself just to absolve others who don't necessarily deserve it. Not something that's going to do a lot of good on your curriculum vitae...
Despite its borrowed tidbits from "The Exorcist," "The Omen," "Highlander" &c., the most notable supernatural element of "The Order" is that writer/director/producer Brian Helgeland's "Knight's Tale" cast seems to have been reincarnated in the modern day, reliving their roles as the noble but troubled hero (Ledger), maiden fair (Shannyn Sossamon as a loopy lovely who says things out of nowhere like "I wanna paint sunflowers but I don't have the guts") and comic relief (Addy, if repeatedly calling Alex "Spaghetti-O" is funny), which may be interesting karmically but not filmically.