So unremittingly dull that I actually bought a pack of Twizzlers at the theater concession stand just so the chewing would keep me awake (since I never purchase movie food while working, 20th Century Fox owes me $3.25), The Order wasn't screened in advance for either critics or preview audiences, and a mid-week afternoon screening (attended by just one other lost soul) handily demonstrated why. After all, why should the studio spend extra dough for an early screening when most viewers won't be awake at the end to assess what they just sat through?
To be fair, this long-on-the-shelf release, which was originally called The Sin Eater until studio execs determined that wasn't a generic enough title, actually has an interesting premise buried beneath its many layers of cobwebs, and the movie occasionally sputters to life during the second half, when many of the story's conflicts reach their boiling point (or, to be more accurate, their lukewarm point). But what's on the screen is never as interesting as the big question off screen -- specifically, how could Brian Helgeland devolve from winning an Oscar for co-writing L.A. Confidential (merely one of the few unqualified masterpieces to emerge from the '90s) to serving as writer, director and producer on this lethargic lump?
Helgeland was also the man responsible for A Knight's Tale, the anachronistic yarn set in medieval times that managed to work tunes by Queen and AC/DC into the proceedings. A Knight's Tale was one of those oddities that viewers either embraced or rejected outright (personally, I dug it), yet even its detractors have to admit that the movie had abundant energy in its favor, as if the cast and crew had a ball making every minute of it. By comparison, everyone involved with The Order seems perpetually glum, as if they're doing penance for past sins.
Three of Helgeland's Knight riders signed up for this tour of duty as well, with Heath Ledger cast in the leading role of Alex, a renegade priest who comes into contact with a man known as The Sin Eater, a 600-year-old being who absorbs the misdeeds of sinners upon their death so that they may enter the kingdom of God. The script posits that there's only one Sin Eater left on the planet, but we all know that's bull: Anybody who devours a Whopper or a Big Mac basically falls under that heading as well.
At any rate, Alex is forced to contend with the machinations of this Sin Eater (played by German actor Benno Furmann), with only two allies by his side: a wisecracking priest and a suicidal artist (portrayed by Ledger's Knight co-stars, lively Mark Addy and comatose Shannyn Sossamon). Peripheral players include two demonic children who may have watched The Omen one too many times, a masked holy man with a drag queen for an assistant, and poor Peter Weller (the original RoboCop himself) as a high-ranking church official who clearly will turn out to be the most sinful character on display.
For whatever reason, the past few years have witnessed an exorbitant amount of murky thrillers with religious overtones, including Stigmata, End of Days, Bless the Child and Lost Souls. The fact that none of them were any good -- and the fact that almost all were box office duds -- obviously didn't deter the high rollers in Hollywood, as witnessed by the creation of The Order. Father, forgive them, for clearly they know not what they do.