The Order

“The Order” was originally to have been released in January 2003, but was delayed so improvements could be made in the special effects. It is sobering to think that a film was actually NOT GOOD ENOUGH to be released in January, which is the dumping-ground month for films.

So it emerges, spiffed up and shiny, in another dumping ground, the first week of September. The film certainly has its problems, but the quality of the special effects is not among them. How very typical of Hollywood thinking to send a film back for better special effects, ignoring that the film still has no compelling story line or believable characters.

It’s about a hunky priest named Alex (Heath Ledger) who belongs to the Carolingians, an old-school order of Catholic priests who still say the mass in Latin, practice exorcisms, and so on. His mentor, Dominic (Frencesco Carnelutti) has died in Rome under suspicious circumstances, so Alex heads to Italy to snoop around. He is accompanied by Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), a recently escaped mental patient who 1) is in love with Alex and 2) once tried to kill him, which is why she was locked up in the first place.

They are met there by Thomas (Mark Addy), a priest and friend and fellow cast member from “A Knight’s Tale” (which, like “The Order,” was written and directed by Brian Helgeland). They are soon on the trail of someone called the Sin-Eater. In the old days, a Sin-Eater was someone who took your sins on himself, thus giving you absolution when the church wouldn’t (if you had been excommunicated, for example). Maybe this Sin-Eater knows what happened to Dominic.

“The Order” is not boring, per se. It is simply a movie with no place to go, and no idea how to get to where it’s not going. It keeps getting sidetracked. Witness the scene with Thomas and Alex in a sewer under a church, where Alex almost drowns and Thomas gets mildly impaled with little knives: What does THAT have to do with anything?

Once the Sin-Eater is located — with an hour left to go — the film truly flounders. If there is yet a purpose, plot-wise, it is not made clear. Instead, we watch these nice-looking folks run around Rome performing various acts that don’t seem to be leading anywhere.

C (1 hr., 42 min.; R, some harsh profanity, a lot of violence, one scene of strong sexuality.)