Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Cinema: Deliver Us From Evil

My first thoughts after seeing Deliver Us From Evil:  Eric Bana deserves better, the Doctor Strange movie better have a good script and Joel McHale and Michael Biehn should play brothers or father and son in a movie, stat.  Now let's back up, shall we?  This past Fourth of July weekend gave us pretty ho-hum cinematic offerings in the form of female Chris Farley Melissa McCarthy in Tammy then Eric Bana and Jerry Bruckheimer's "factual" horror flick Deliver Us From EvilEvil is the latest high end horror flick to underperform in an unpredictable genre where low budget, throwaway crap seems to hit big when it works whereas polished, movie star fueled offerings get left in the dust.  With posters loudly proclaiming INSPIRED BY THE ACTUAL ACCOUNTS OF AN NYPD SERGEANT over the cast or anything else, it's pretty obvious that Sony was banking on riding the steady line of "True Event" horror hits like The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring and The Exorcism of Emily Rose to bring in audiences.  While Deliver Us From Evil does a fine job of creating a creepy atmosphere and keeping things tense, it also can't escape the tired trappings of the genre characters and in the end the story isn't based on real life.

The flick opens in Iraq where three soldiers enter a cave but then their flashlights and electronics die out while video feed audio still works...cut to New York City and we meet Sergeant Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), a special-ops guy who is known for bringing down a child molester years ago.  Sarchie has a "radar" sense for trouble and with his partner Butler (Joel McHale who along with Bana looks like they've been hitting the gym) answer a domestic disturbance call where a wild eyed former Marine has just beaten up his wife but gets his at the hands of Sarchie and Butler.  This leads us into a spate of mysterious crimes where perps are pale, scarred, act like cats and mutter about doors.  Meanwhile, Sarchie has a loving yet neglected wife (Olivia Munn) and daughter at home and we meet Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) who drinks, smokes and loves women.  Basically all these crazies are possessed and trying to find a door, to where I can't really recall.  Maybe to unleash evil or something?  Mendoza and Sarchie team up to figure out what's going on and we're into cheap thrills, spitters, exorcisms and lots of flashlight lit investigating.

Deliver Us From Evil is a pretty slick looking flick, utilizing the New York locales and creating a dingy atmosphere through lots of rain and evil making all flashlights and bulbs burn out.  Scares are relegated to dark rooms, milky eyed cult members and quick reveals that are in the head, not in the world.  Eric Bana, the easygoing yet sturdy Australian actor who broke into the US with his performance in Chopper but was never able to reach the heights of Hugh Jackman or Russell Crowe through valiant efforts like Hulk, Munich and Troy, headlines a capable yet oddly filled cast.  Playing it strong but not macho, Bana balances the seemingly supernatural and physical antics of the investigation along with the crammed in domestic scenes with ease and a heavy New York accent that goes up and down through the running time.  Olivia Munn as his wife seems miscast but the role is pretty throwaway to begin with as her scenes involve looking concerned and taking care of their daughter.  Point Break remake star Edgar Ramirez is fine as the unconventional priest who works out, hits on women and does his best to fight evil through prayer and exorcism.  Joel McHale is the movie's most random casting choice as he's always cracking wise in neither a likeable or asshole way so you can't take him seriously when he speaks.  Then when he starts knife fighting with bad guys you really can't figure out what's going on.  Bruckheimer has always had an eye for casting, from the then indie crew of Armageddon (Ben Affleck, Owen Wilson, Steve Buscemi) to the young guns of Enemy of the State (Jason Lee, Scott Caan, Jamie Kennedy, Jack Black, Jake Busey) so Evil seems to be his foray into casting former television show hosts turned actors?

While my heart was pumping for parts of the film, in my mind I knew this all had to be BS.  There's so many plot holes (how did these possessed Marines get back to America?) and "yeah, right!" moments that I immediately went home and looked up how much or if any of it was true.  Based on a 2001 book, the movie isn't based on any one investigation Sarchie participated in but rather the man himself with a story created for a film.  Back to the beginning, director Scott Derrickson has been hired to take on Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Strange so I hope they enlist some writers to produce a tighter script than Evil.  I used to watch Community somewhat regularly and star Joel McHale always reminded me of Dammaged Goods icon Michael Biehn in general physical looks and slight mannerisms.  If they aged up The Biehn and made McHale younger, they could totally play father son in a flick or maybe bickering sibling brothers who happen to be Kevlar vest clad, shotgun toting cops.  Yeah...

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