"Deliver Us from Evil" is based on the real life of New York detective Ralph Sarchie. The film based on his memoir is so slowly paced and ends up dwelling so long on extended explanations that it would have been better if Sarchie had embellished some of his "true" stories. Except for an unnecessarily long final exorcism scene, most of the movie plays like a Halloween edition of "COPS."
Eric Bana brings his low-key acting approach to the role of Sarchie — a good cop, so-so father and husband. A series of bizarre cases puts him on a path that eventually leads to a showdown with pure evil. His only hope of winning this spiritual battle is to get help from a priest (Édgar Ramírez) who has more vices than Charlie Sheen.
The pair split their time tracking down three lunatics and discussing the true meaning of faith. More tracking and less talking would have helped build the kind of tight tension needed to make this kind of movie work. The best way to scare an audience is to give them very little rest from the horror; "Deliver" has too many lengthy lapses.
It doesn't help that the script by Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman keeps throwing in plot points to explain away the majority of the scary events. Most can easily be dismissed as the result of overpowering guilt, a hyped-up imagination, uncontrolled use of drugs or plain and simple stupidity. The writers talk the film out of too many potentially good moments.
Bana's not bad as he brings a slow-boiling intensity to the role, but the casting of "Community" star Joel McHale as his wise-cracking sidekick is the worst cop pairing since Pat Morita and Jay Leno in the 1989 film "Collision Course." The constant jokes from the character not only kill the tension in most of the scenes, they create a situation that when you really need to care about the character, there's no good reason to bother.
The best work is done by Ramírez as the priest. He comes across both as a man who believes in God but also as someone who could easily have his faith tested. Had the film focused on his efforts, the story would have had a far more interesting trajectory.
"Deliver Us from Evil" would like to be an updated version of "Seven" or "The Exorcist." It never reaches the macabre madness of "Seven" or the spiritual intensity of "The Exorcist." Instead of being a scary movie like those two horror classics, "Deliver Us from Evil" is just a movie with a few scary moments.
"Deliver Us from Evil," rated R for violence, language, scary images. Stars Eric Bana, Édgar Ramírez, Joel McHale, Olivia Munn. Directed by Scott Derrickson. Running time: 111 minutes. Grade: C-