In The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Catholic priest Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) goes on trial for the death of the eponymous girl (Jennifer Carpenter) who perished during a ritualistic ceremony to release the demons that possessed her. Lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) agrees to defend him, with the stipulation to her boss (Colm Feore) that she will become senior partner of her firm if she wins the case. Devoutly religious assistant D.A. Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) is the prosecuting attorney and proves to be one very tough customer.

This may be based on a true story, but, onscreen, it comes off as a cornball, none-too-exciting, second-rate version of that granddaddy of all satanic possession movies, The Exorcist. However reprehensible one may have found the content and intent of that film, there was no denying that the then-shocking freshness of the material, William Friedkin's powerful direction and the amazing, pre-CG special effects made for an experience that was impossible to shake off. Here, director Scott Derrickson must do his damnedest to infuse interest in endless courtroom scenes, which have their built-in risibility factor. "I object, your Honor!" shouts Thomas at one point. "On what grounds?" he is asked by the judge (Mary Beth Hurt, having a bad hair day), and then comes the reply: "What about silliness?" The audience may find itself in full agreement with him by then.

Paul Harris Boardman and Derrickson's script is a thing made of cheese, veering from a stereotypical view of Emily Rose's over-religious bumpkin family, whose household is overrun with the stray cats she was constantly adopting, to Bruner's career woes, as she sorrowfully broods over her future and the difficulty of her case over Tanqueray martinis, which she orders with the bark of "Dry!" As for the horror, much of the imagery is obviously derived from Edvard Munch's Scream painting, as Emily keeps seeing otherwise ordinary people on her college campus become leering gargoyles, to the deafening sound of Christopher Young's insistently obvious score and aural effects which have every door closing sound like thunderclaps.

Under the circumstances, even respected actors like Linney (groomed to a glamorous legal-eagle fault), Scott (in an annoying little moustache) and Wilkinson (dull in a cleric's collar) can do little but manfully go through their paces (and, hopefully, pick up a nice paycheck). Henry Czerny appears as a sleazy witness, doing his typically shifty, too-good-looking thing. Shohreh Aghdashloo seems to have taken her Oscar nomination for House of Sand and Fog a mite too seriously, for she fills her bit part as an occult expert with a panoply of near-hilarious ham gestures and inflections, like some modern-day Maria Ouspenskaya. Carpenter, looking like a contorted Claire Danes, plies the gamut of frenetic flailing, grotesquely twisted joints and ear-splitting, obscenity-filled shrieks in four different languages. She certainly deserves an A for effort and one sincerely hopes that her future doesn't have a Roller Boogie in store for her, as it did for The Exorcist's Linda Blair.

-David Noh