Speaking of heresy, the film itself is so rebellious against what is considered right that it dropped the "The" out of "The Exorcist", and yes, this film is so unexciting that I just questioned why there's no "The" in front of "Exorcist" anymore. Seriously though, if you ask me, this is pretty much "Exorcist Episode V: The Devil Strikes Back", and I'm not just saying that because James Earl Jones is here, I'm saying that mostly because there are too many prequels to this series, so I may as well call this the fifth installment. Shoot, the material is so dried up with this sequel that this may as well be the fifth outing for the "Exorcist" series, yet regardless of what you think about this film, the Devil is back with a vengeance, and quite frankly, I'm surprised it took him so long to catch up with Linda Blair. I don't know if it's so much money that's the root of all evil, as much as it's celebrity, because after "The Exorcist", Blair could afford some pretty good drugs, as surely as more than a few decent career moves got Richard Burton some fine alcohol. Hm, I was about to question why they got people with backgrounds that aren't all that holy to be holy people, - corrupted or not - but Burton was such a big drunk that he's perfect to play a priest, and at any rate, this film's purity is so questionable that the psych doctor in this film is, of all people, Louise Fletcher. She will soon know what Jack Nicholson is talking about when he asks someone if they've ever "danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight", and by soon, I mean in twelve years after this film, when Tim Burton's "Batman" came out. Forget the Devil, I'd be more afraid of being possessed by Jack Nicholson, or at least I am now that this film has kind of watered down the thrills behind Satan's work, and while that's not to say that this film is quite as messy as they say, it is to say that this film has its limitations, even on paper.
I'm not asking that this film's story concept be quite as juicy as its predecessor's, - which, to be fair, wasn't exactly wealthy with potential - but this subject matter is even more minimalist than a predecessor that was arguably too light in scale and dynamicity for its own good, and to make matters worse, there's some questionability within this mythology, which is sometimes intelligent, but also sometimes fairly cheesy. If nothing else, the film's story concept seems cheesy, because William Goodhart's and an uncredited Rospo Pallenberg's script is so cheesy, at least at times, when dialogue hits fall-flat moments, and histrionics come into play, reflecting a certain consistency in subtlety issues. This film holds the potential of being smart, but many of the lapses in subtlety are glaring, with some being, well, kind of dumb, and no matter how much entertainment value and highlights get the final product by as decent, the writing lowlights are hard to deny, particularly when they begin to fiddle with the integrity of characterization. I suppose characterization is passable, and many of the performances are certainly endearing enough to bring the improvably drawn characters to life, but on paper, there's something lacking about developmental depth, resulting in undercooking that distances you a bit from the characters, especially considering that this film has a good bit of time that it could have dedicated to exposition, but ends up dedicating to draggy, repetitious material that meanders along, stressing natural shortcomings and being itself stressed by atmospheric pacing problems. Really, the film might not be quite as slow as its predecessor, and yet, when the meditativeness that was much more prominent in 1973's "The Exorcist" comes into play here, it's not quite as effective as it should be, having engaging moments, but many more moments in which material is not soaked up enough to compensate for atmospheric dry spells that dull things down and further distance you from a film whose writing, alone, places plenty of challenges before your investment. The film isn't quite as big of a mess as they say, but it's still a mess, and a big enough one to where mediocrity stands as a very real risk, backed by dynamicity, dramatic and pacing shortcomings that make the final product, at the very least, a substantially inferior sequel that held quite a bit of potential. I was joking earlier, when I boasted that material in this series has already dried up, because this is a pretty different sequel that stands to be more, but doesn't exactly fall as flat as they say, being flawed nearly to no end, but nevertheless with highlights, even stylistic ones.
Now, in a lot of ways, the film falls behind the stylistic value of its predecessor, and by its own right, this film's stylistic value isn't all that special, but it's still worth mentioning, at least in a visual respect, as William A. Fraker's turns in a cinematographic performance whose tasteful emphasis on sparse lighting makes the brighter moments haunting and the darker moments chilling, especially when backed by imagery whose technical value has become quite dated, but remains adequate enough to enhance the telling of this tale, which perhaps needs as much help as it can. Again, this film's story concept is improvable, having questionable elements, or, if nothing else, too much minimalist, but quite frankly, there's still potential here, thanks in part to a mythology that may be particularly questionable in some ways, but is either intelligent at times or simply endearing within its own context. As for the basic plot itself, it's messy, even on paper, but still with some intrigue to its ambiguities and layers that may not be great, and are certainly undercut by writing issues, but can still be see through highlights in storytelling, as well as highlights in the portrayals of the characters who drive quite a few elements. Acting material is even more limited this time around, after a very dramatic predecessor, and there are a few mediocre supporting performances, but on the whole, decency is found throughout this rather charming cast, with leading man Richard Burton standing out about as much as he can with thorough charisma, as well as a few gripping layers as an open-minded man of God who begins to tap into dark religious depths on a revelatory and dangerous adventure. Burton carries the film about as much as anyone, and he's not the only endearing force in this cast, so the onscreen talent is there, even if the offscreen talent is limited, and yet, the performances found on the screen are not the only ones that get you by. There is still a good bit of credit due to director John Boorman's, whose efforts are messy, but have distinctly notable highlights, for although tension is much more limited in this film than it was in the predecessor, with effective imagery and genuine highlights in material bite, as well as some strong elements within the great Ennio Morricone's tasteful score, Boorman crafts an atmosphere with effective highlights that punctuate a consistent degree of intrigue that keep the bland spells - of which there are many - from dulling too far down. Really, what saves the film is a fair degree of entertainment value, for although the final product is a mess, it's not so faulty that I couldn't stick with it as a reasonably charming and sometimes effective thriller, regardless of its many shortcomings.
In closing, natural shortcomings, backed by a questionable mythology, go emphasized by enough cheesiness, underdevelopment and pacing unevenness to threaten the final product with mediocrity, but through a striking visual style, decent performances, - particularly that of Richard Burton - and adequately intriguing and sometimes effective direction by John Boorman behind a fairly engaging story concept, "Exorcist II: The Heretic" emerges as a, for me, endearing thriller, even if it does fall a considerable ways short of its predecessor.
2.5/5 - Fair