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Last Rites Review

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An implausibly handsome priest (Berenger), who is also the son of a mafia godfather and not averse to saying “bullshit” instead of prayers, is forced into conflicting loyalties by a beautiful blonde (Zuniga) on the run from the Mafia.

★★★★★

Many feature films are never released or only fleetingly shown at the cinema in this country. It could be because they’re frankly awful, like Dial Help or the extraordinary Slugs. It could be because they’re considered too weird, like Bob Balaban’s Parents. Or it could be because they’re just not judged to be crowd-pullers in the U.K. Three of Tom Berenger’s recent films fall into this last category— Betrayed, Major League and Last Rites—and all are now renting or are shortly to rent at a video library near you. This is a strange indictment of Mr Berenger’s standing on this side of the pond, for all three films are eminently watchable and if you were to cut Tommy’s head off he’d have, like a stick of Brighton rock, the word “star” running through his body.

In Last Rites, he plays Father Michael Pace (pronounced Patch-eh), the most unlikely Catholic priest this side of Cardinal Sin of the Philippines, who, despite his vices, runs New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

He’s asked for help by the obligatory beauty-on-the-run-from-the-mafia, whose rumpy-pumpy with a gang leader was upsettingly cut short when her beau had his goolies blown off. Pace reluctantly decides to help her (and of course falls in love), but comes face to face with the old chestnut of confused loyalties —to her, to his family, to the church, to his friends, to his acquaintances and to anyone else who knows him. She says she’s an innocent bystander, but is she telling the truth about what happened? Will she charm him into losing his virginity and disgracing his cloth? Will his family, who are involved in the whole thing, ultimately turn on him? These questions are cleverly left unanswered, and while Last Rites prolongs the denouement by half an hour beyond its sell-by date, the film’s twists keep you guessing and once or twice genuinely throw you off balance.

It’s a standard thriller, but two things make it stand out. One is Mr Berenger, who surely will hit the big time here soon—he has the eyes of Mel Gibson (almost), the charisma of Patrick Swayze (just about) and the acting talents of William Hurt (at a pinch). The other is the religion angle. Father Pace grapples with desire and duty—although swearing and violence do come alarmingly naturally to this man of the cloth—and his dilemma, added to the religious imagery and some neat touches in the confessional, makes Last Rites a thriller with added extras.

Poorly-penned curio that is granted some salvation thanks to Berenger's intriguing man of the cloth.