The Pope's Exorcist Review: The Power Of Crowe Compels You

What if the Pope ... had an exorcist? Father Gabriele Amorth was a real priest who served as the exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, wrote a bunch of books, and founded the International Association of Exorcists. "The Exorcist" director William Friedkin even made a (not very good) documentary about him, called "The Devil and Father Amorth." Now, Father Amorth gets the Hollywood treatment with "The Pope's Exorcist," a biblically silly movie that has Russell Crowe playing the holy warrior. 

Zipping around on a tiny Vespa and looking like he's cosplaying Orson Welles in "F is for Fake," Crowe's Amorth is a badass; a renegade; a rebel. He doesn't play by the church's rules, maaaan! And he's got a killer comeback to anyone who dares question his methods: "You have a problem with me, you take it up with my boss ... the Pope!" Hell yes! If there's a reason to see "The Pope's Exorcist" (and there's not, really), it's for Crowe, who is a real treat to watch here. Adopting a very questionable Italian accent (you expect him to say "It's-a me! The Pope's Exorcist!" at any moment), Crowe's Father Amorth tosses skulls at people, chugs booze from a flask, and attempts to crack jokes (he never seems to get to the punchline). And oh yeah, he fights evil. 

To his credit, Father Amorth doesn't blindly believe that everyone he deals with is possessed. Indeed, according to the exorcist's own stats, 98% of the people he's summoned to investigate are suffering from some form of mental illness, not demonic possession. When that happens, the priest recommends them to a doctor. But what about the 2% that aren't mentally ill? "I have a name for it," Amorth tells a council of stuffy priests and bishops questioning his methods. "Evil." Cue the spooky music! 

Get me the priest!

Any exorcist movie has a huge hurdle to overcome, and that hurdle is called "The Exorcist." William Friedkin's 1973 horror masterpiece is so effective, so iconic, so pitch-perfect that virtually every exorcism made in its wake ends up being a rip-off. Again and again, filmmakers simply take what Friedkin did and steal it, often with less-than-great results. There's a logic to this, I guess — why fix what isn't broken? But that also means every damn exorcist movie feels derivative as hell. You know what to expect: a child will suddenly start cursing like a sailor, move a bunch of crap around with their minds, projectile vomit, and end up tied to the bed. Over and over again.

And indeed, "The Pope's Exorcist" follows all of these familiar paths. Julia (Alex Essoe) has just moved her rebellious teen daughter Amy (Laurel Marsden) and traumatized son Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) into an old church abbey in Spain. The plan is to fix the place up and then sell it. But this abbey has a deep, dark past, and soon Henry has succumbed to potty mouth, making lewd remarks about his mother and speaking in a deep, creepy voice (provided by Ralph Ineson, who really does have a great voice for this sort of thing). Yes, poor Henry is possessed, and the demon inside him has a request: "Get me the priest!"

The priest is, of course, Father Amorth, who heads to Spain ready to discredit this latest possession claim. His assumptions about this case being a fake are quickly disproven — this kid really is possessed! And the demon inside him has a grand plan: to possess the Pope's Exorcist himself! And then use his new body to infiltrate the church and do all sorts of evil deeds. And oh yeah, we learn this happened once before — during the Inquisition! That's right — the horrors of the Inquisition weren't the result of persecution and religious mania. It was because of demons. There's something both luridly pulpy and hideously offensive about this idea, so hats off to you, "The Pope's Exorcist"!  

Never scary, wholly derivative, and mercifully short

Never scary, wholly derivative, and mercifully short, "The Pope's Exorcist" is worth seeing for Crowe and Crowe alone. Wonky accent aside, the man is a pro, and it's clear he's having some fun playing this no-nonsense priest. Director Julius Avery ("Overlord") tries to give the film a certain style, but every scene is so underlit that you can't really see what's going on. It's like every room in the abbey has the lowest-watt lightbulbs ever created. 

But Crowe gets to stalk around cracking-wise and talking about all the books he wrote ("The books are good!" he insists). You can tell there's a better movie in here somewhere; one where Crowe is given even more freedom to play Amorth as a free-wheeling man of the cloth. It's like he's a rogue cop, and only his captain (in this case, the Pope, played by Franco Nero) has his back. Crowe's Amorth even flashes a holy medallion like it's a badge at one point. 

"The Pope's Exorcist" is by no means a good movie, but there's a modicum of fun to be had from watching Crowe do his thing. And if you have a problem with him, you can take it up with his boss — the Pope!

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10