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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Sowing and Weeping
by John P. McCarthy

When God made Hollywood on the seventh day, presumably to stave off boredom, He had to foresee a supernatural thriller like The Reaping. It's not for a movie critic lacking an advanced degree in Theology or the desire to commit blasphemy to question the Almighty's plan. But it does fall within his or her purview to blow the whistle when confronted with an example of cinematic claptrap.

And yet, as ridiculous as The Reaping may be, failing to pass muster from a religious, scientific, or critical perspective doesn't mean it's devoid of entertainment value. The problem it presents for believers is that the Lord's behavior and Satan's handiwork appear interchangeable. Those concerned with scientific method and the primacy of reason (as well as plot coherence) will feel totally betrayed. Cineastes won't find it very scary and will look to Beelzebub to give it a push as it teeters on the edge of horror.

The Biblical lesson about reaping what you sow applies to Hollywood's attempts to embrace moviegoers of faith. It's doubtful The Reaping's lead producers Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis -- who's also a dab hand at directing popular movies (Forest Gump) -- are trying to jump on that bandwagon. Still, movies of this ilk are among the crosses a conciliatory industry must bear. And if it makes tons of money it will feel light as a feather. Hilary Swank in a tank top and hip-hugger pants, a battle between good and evil, and a heavily-promoted release during Passover and Easter Week could easily translate into a big boxoffice haul.

Swank plays Katherine Winter, a minister turned miracle-busting scientist who wades into the Louisiana Bayou intent on finding a rational explanation for blood-red waters, the first of ten Old Testament plagues. Explaining away the frogs, flies and locusts that follow is a tad more difficult -- especially since her particular discipline and scientific credentials are never established. All we know is that she has a nice office at L.S.U. and a pithy explanation for what befell the ancient Egyptians.

Only five years prior, Katherine was doing missionary work in Sudan, accompanied by her husband and daughter, when tragedy struck and caused her to abandon her faith. She's since gained a reputation for debunking paranormal phenomena and is forewarned that something sinister is currently afoot by the Roman Catholic priest (Stephen Rea) who ran the mission where her world was turned upside down. She's accompanied on this excursion by her born-again assistant (Idris Elba), a protective fellow -- also without any specific academic qualifications -- whose demise comes much later than you expect.

They are escorted by a local teacher (David Morrissey) with a Deep South mansion and the quietly confident demeanor that is sure to tempt a single woman buffeted by sorrowful circumstance. The mystery behind the plagues concerns who exactly is doing the reaping and whether they're on the side of good or evil. A local girl (AnnaSophia Robb) is the prime suspect according to the townspeople and she and Katherine play hide-and-seek under the moss while all hell breaks loose.

Belief -- whether in God, science or some combination of the two -- is beside the point when you get to admire Swank's physique and her character knows the most flattering outfits to pack for a swamp expedition and a sweaty overnight on a gothic plantation. The Reaping is further proof that faith and reason are both readily sacrificed on the shallow altar of entertainment. So it's fair to call their latest showdown a draw. More cynically, nobody wins.

(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated "R" for violence, disturbing images and some sexuality.)

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