December 06, 1982 12:00 PM

The ads for Christopher (Superman) Reeve’s film begin: “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.” And how! It’s as if a stray piece of kryptonite had drained Reeve of the charm and talent he delivered as the Man of Steel. For a change of pace, he plays a fighting, fornicating Irish-Catholic priest who rises out of the Chicago slums to serve as a WW II Army chaplain. Reassigned to the Vatican when the souls he slays outnumber the ones he saves, Reeve uses his financial savvy to bolster the Church’s budget by tying up with the black market and Mafia don Jason Miller. The Church, in the person of Fernando Rey’s Cardinal Santoni, looks the other way. The script, by Abraham Polonsky and Wendell Mayes, comes down heavily on the Vatican but lightly on evidence or logic. The love story is even worse. Hiding his identity behind an Army uniform, Reeve seduces a nun played by Genevieve Bujold who, at 40, is cruelly miscast. “I’m living with a need to tell you something,” says Reeve in his best Barbara Cartland manner, but he doesn’t. Bujold learns the truth when she spots Monsignor Reeve in church with the Pope and stares him down in front of the congregation. Not since Patty Duke damned the deity in Valley of the Dolls has a film provoked such steady and unintended laughter. Things don’t get better as the film spans three decades, and Reeve is made to age through makeup that looks like a light flour-dusting. Director Frank Perry, apparently still high from his Mommie Dearest campfest, has gone over the edge with this film. Perhaps Perry thought Reeve’s popularity was enough to make audiences swallow two hours of staggering ineptitude. Not a prayer. (R)

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