Robbery, murder, pedophilia -- New York City police sergeant Ralph Sarchie has seen it all. "Where was God when all that was happening?" he asks Jesuit priest Joe Mendoza while they chug shots in a bar. Maybe God is in Sarchie himself, Mendoza counters. Forget the problem of evil, he says, "What about the problem of good?"
It's a memorable twist on an age-old exchange in "Deliver Us From Evil," an exorcism flick that's far more compelling than its genre usually requires. Thanks to a fine cast, solid direction by Scott Derrickson and an idiosyncratic soundtrack by The Doors, the movie's mandatory cliches -- Latin invocations, gurgling demons -- are far more tolerable than usual. The material is based on Sarchie's nonfiction book (he's now a practicing demonologist), but you don't have to believe this movie to enjoy it.
Eric Bana ("Lone Survivor") plays Sarchie as a humorless workaholic, while Joel McHale (NBC's "Community") is his irreverent partner, Butler. The actors work well together, especially during the film's first act, an enjoyably creepy ride-along through alleys, basements and, rather delightfully, the Bronx Zoo.
The movie's stealth star, though, is Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramírez ("Zero Dark Thirty"), who plays Mendoza as a street-wise priest with a glamorously checkered past. Mendoza is a fiction (Derrickson co-wrote the script with Paul Harris Boardman), but Ramírez gives him such rock-star mystique -- he's like Lou Reed with a crucifix -- that you'll wish he were real.
When the believer finally convinces the skeptic that a demon is on the loose, "Deliver Us From Evil" begins to drag. An Iraq War vet (Sean Harris) emerges as our villain, and Sarchie's family (Olivia Munn and Lulu Wilson play his wife and young daughter) land rather haphazardly in jeopardy. Derrickson's ideas eventually run out, but "Deliver Us From Evil" still delivers far more than expected.
PLOT A skeptical New York City cop and a Jesuit priest team up to solve a series of crimes.
RATING R (violence, gore, language)
CAST Eric Bana, Edgar Ramírez, Olivia Munn
BOTTOM LINE A surprisingly strong cast and solid direction make all the malarkey in this horror flick tolerable.