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Don’t ‘Order’ this muddled mess

Ledger broods and mumbles

“The Order” was originally titled “The Sin Eater,” which would raise the question: Who’s not leaving the table until this plateful of reheated leftovers from “The Exorcist” is gone? The would be writer-director Brian Helgeland, who shared an Oscar nomination for adapting the screenplay for “L.A. Confidential” and also wrote and directed “A Knight’s Tale.”

Of course, he's the same guy who penned the scripts for “The Postman” and something called “976-Evil,” which is the mode he’s working in here.

There have been reports about conflict with the studio over the movie, so maybe upper-management meddling is partly to blame. But from what’s on the screen, there’s no way to cut this movie that would make it better, except into tiny pieces.

Heath Ledger plays a young priest who neither shaves nor can grow a proper beard. He broods a lot and mumbles things like, “Ever life is a riddle. The answer to mine is a knowledge born of darkness.” Sounds like the poetry of a 10th-grader hooked on “Dungeons & Dragons.”

Ledger belongs to a rogue order of priests who conduct exorcisms and bust ghosts and such outside the guidelines of the Vatican.

The story: A shady Roman Catholic Cardinal (“RoboCop” star Peter Weller) tells Ledger that a “sin eater” is on the loose and can only be killed with a holy dagger. Sin eaters suck out your bad deeds (which float around the room like a big jellyfish) and allow dying people to go to heaven without the help of the church or Jesus, the Cardinal says.

Why does the sin eater have to die? Who knows. Probably because this is the kind of movie where the Vatican is the seat of all supernatural evil and the Cardinal is really a pagan bent on world domination.

Shannyn Sossamon (who was also Ledger’s galpal in “A Knight’s Tale”), is his love interest here. They have sex in a scene intercut with images of the Virgin Mary, as if she’s some kind of voyeur. Whatever you think of the Roman Catholic church, its leadership or its politics, this is a trash technique.

It’s hard to make a story about ancient mystical rituals, church secrets, a child-disguised demons into a boring, muddled mess, but “The Order” succeeds brilliantly.