So there are these passive little ragamuffin children hanging around in the beginning of The Order, not doing much, just sorta there and not being particularly scary or interesting or anything — which is a good general description of The Order as a whole — and all of a sudden, for no reason except that the script said for him to do this then, Heath Ledger decides to whip out his big… Now don’t get excited, girls, Heath’s a priest here, not that that prevents him from getting a little nookie later on, but what he whips out is his big crucifix, and he yells something at the kids about sending them back to the hell from whence they came, blah blah blah. And they very obligingly depart this plane of existence, again without much to-do or fanfare except for some fallen autumnal leaves blowing around.
Now, we had no idea these rugrats were any more demonic than the average small child, and we’ve certainly seen them do nothing weird, but Heath is part of an obscure and ancient order of Catholic priests who apparently act sorta as ghostbusters, banishing the appropriate creatures to hell and so on, so I guess he can sense these things and act in a preventative, proactive way, banishing evil from the movie before it has a chance to do anything fun or exciting. And Heath has done this so often that he’s pretty blasé about it, and so is his fellow priest Mark Addy, so that when Mark shows up literally seconds after the banishment and the leaves blowing around, Heath is all like, “Hey, I just banished these kids who were evil or something.” And Mark is all like, “Yeah? Cool. So, you wanna get a beer?”
And we in the audience, we’re all like, “But wait! Couldn’t we be scared a little bit? We, after all, are not already bored with evil children and ghostbusting priests and Heath Ledger whipping big powerful things out.”
But no. The Brian Helgeland Repertory Players are back, and you’d have thunk that after A Knight’s Tale, they’d be afraid of the townsfolk laughing them off the stage if they ever dared show their faces again, but here they are: Ledger (The Patriot), Addy (The Time Machine, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas), and the unlikeliest ingenue, Shannyn Sossamon (The Rules of Attraction, 40 Days and 40 Nights), a pallid, timid mouse of a thing with even less screen presence than Addy. It’s only Ledger who makes you feel he’s slumming it here, that he’s better than this throwaway crap, but he’d better get moving on some decent flicks or this’ll be what he’s stuck with forever.
There’s not a single moment in The Order that’s frightening or surprising or exciting or that doesn’t makes you think, Gee, I could be home changing the cat box. It makes you wonder how long Helgeland (who wrote, directed, and produced) is gonna be able to coast on that screenplay Oscar for L.A. Confidential, and can he write anything compelling that isn’t based on someone else’s really cool and amazing book? It’s like he decided to make one of those spooky 1970s religious thrillers, like The Omen or The Omen, all creepy cemeteries and rain-slicked streets of Rome and weird priests and ritual daggers and ancient manuscripts written in Aramaic, only he’s gonna light the film badly — either too much or not enough — and he’s gonna keep all the interesting stuff offscreen, where it belongs, like all the good bits happened in the first movie, and more interesting stuff might happen in the third movie, but here we are stuck in the boring middle film.
Instead, silliness will abound: Sossamon’s damaged waif Mara, who’s Heath’s not-girlfriend — he’s a priest, you know, not that he doesn’t find her bland blank-slateness downright fascinating for some reason — who tried to kill him in Episode I will be welcomed back with nary an apology needed; Addy will continually refer to Heath as “Spaghetti-O”; and the “sin eater” (Benno Furmann) who cleanses the soul of Heath’s beloved mentor before his death, ensuring his entry into heaven, will be hunted down as the bad guy.
What’s really needed is for Heath to whip out his big crucifix and banish Helgeland to hell — you know, one of the less punishing upper levels; The Order is a minor crime in the grand scheme of your Giglis and your Kangaroo Jacks. But it might save us from ever having to endure Shannyn Sossamon’s moping again.