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Horror flick takes far too long to serve up anything nearing fear

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This image released by Sony Pictures shows Joel McHale, left, and Eric Bana in a scene from Screen Gems'

ANDREW SCHWARTZ / AP PHOTO/SONY PICTURES, Enlarge Image

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Joel McHale, left, and Eric Bana in a scene from Screen Gems' "Deliver Us From Evil."

Deliver Us from Evil takes a very long time to deliver us from dullness. This demonic possession police procedural only gets good and wound up for its third-act exorcism.

That's when Edgar Ramirez, as a chain-smoking, whisky-loving Jesuit priest, stops phoning it in and gets wound up himself. As Mendoza, too hip to go by "Father," he's offered his services to the puzzled cop, Sgt. Sarchie (Eric Bana), much earlier.

But the doubting Sarchie makes us play the "how long before the cop gets around to calling the helpful priest" game as satanic civilians -- Iraq War vets -- start showing signs of supernatural evil, thanks to a tomb they stumbled into while on duty in the Middle East. And neither priest nor cop made a good first impression.

"So, you're not all pedophiles, huh?"

Sarchie is a cop with "radar," strong hunches that have him leading his partner (Joel McHale) into harm's way.

Checking into a domestic violence call, another "scratching noises in the basement" call, and a third "crazy woman at the Bronx Zoo" (at night) one has Sarchie seeing bloody visions and hearing static -- and snippets of the Doors. "Break on through to the other side," he's ordered. "People are strange," he's warned.

The foreshadowing is obvious in this "inspired by the real Sarchie" account (a real New York cop who's seen The Exorcist a few too many times, judging from this). We hear him say "I hate cats," his daughter wonders aloud "Why doesn't Daddy come to church with us?" and we know every one of those is a plot point that comes back for a cheap scare or an attempted jolt.

Overwhelming its other shortcomings is the Scott Derrickson film's agonizing lack or urgency. Sarchie should be alarmed, frightened, obsessed. He has his own demons, we're told. Bana doesn't give us much of that.

And Ramirez, as Father Exposition, is just there -- explaining demonic possession, how he came to believe in it and the stages of exorcism. He seems detached, barely involved, sleepy-eyed and sort of "been there, done that" about the whole thing.

But after 90 minutes in which the only creepy moments occur when the evil comes after Sarchie's wife (Olivia Munn) and kid (Lulu Wilson), everybody gets their game faces on for the big Good/Evil confrontation with crucifixes, including an eyewitness black cop straight out of some horror parody.

And that delivery arrives as too little, too late.

 

-- McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2014 C15

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