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'The Exorcism' review: Russell Crowe can't exorcise the demons

Adam Graham, The Detroit News on

Published in Entertainment News

If a movie can get two-thirds credit, "The Exorcism" deserves it.

The horror thriller starring Russell Crowe — who's in a bit of a Nicolas Cage period of late, as he also starred in last year's "The Pope's Exorcist" — ultimately falls victim to the trappings of exorcism movies, which require a climax where characters to shout religious words at loud and increasingly intense volumes. But for awhile it's an interesting exploration of a down-on-his-luck actor trying to claw his way back after a series of career derailments.

Crowe is Anthony Miller, whose career hit the skids following the death of his wife, which triggered a relapse of his alcoholism. He's cast in a remake of "The Exorcist" — the working title is "The Georgetown Project" — after the mysterious death of the lead actor in the project. (Might be best to leave the movie alone after that incident, just sayin'.)

Miller, who's trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins), brings her with him to set, where he begins to immerse himself in his character. David Hyde Pierce plays Father Conor, his on-set consultant to the cloth, and Adam Goldberg is a hoot as Peter, the film's egomaniac director, who insists he's making a "psychological drama wrapped in the skin of a horror movie," and not just a horror movie. (The movie would like to think the same about itself.)

It's no spoiler to say things on set don't end up going exactly as planned, but Oscar winner Crowe, who was also quite good in this year's "Land of Bad," does strong work as an actor connecting to a part and working through the corrosive bile the role stirs inside him. Peter pushes all boundaries in getting Anthony to go where he needs him to go, and Crowe is convincing — that is, right up until the film itself ceases to be.

Co-writer and director Joshua John Miller, the '80s child star of movies like "River's Edge" and "Near Dark" (he also scripted 2015's "The Final Girls"), has a knack for scares and setting, and he works with an excellent sound design team on a series of startling jump scares. It's too bad "The Exorcism" falls apart in its final stages, but for awhile it manages to hold the devil at bay.

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'THE EXORCISM'

Grade: C

MPA rating: R (for language, some violent content, sexual references and brief drug use)

Running time: 1:35

How to watch: Now in theaters

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