The Next Karate Kid is no longer the embarrassing thing on Hilary Swank's resume. The Reaping is a movie that skates close to total incompetence, neither following its own rules, or seeming to care one way or the other. It focuses on the adventures of Katherine Winter, (Swank) who is something of a gymrat Amazing Randi, turning up at sites where local yokels think they've witnessed a miracle and spoon-feeding them some good old fashioned, God-hating science. When a Southern Caricature named Doug (David Morrissey) asks Amazing Hilary to come down to his town because, um, they're undergoing the ten biblical plagues down there, she doesn't snare him in a butterfly net but happily packs her bags. Let me stop here and mention that, having never seen or heard of actor David Morrissey before this film, I wrote in my notes: "If this guy is Southern, why the English accent?" When I got home, I looked up Morrissey's IMDB page and saw that he was, in fact, English. That's how much The Reaping cares about its details.

Once arrived in Mississippi Burningville, Swank and her overtly-religious partner, played by Idris Elba, begin to take notice of a local family that is being shunned by polite society because of a hazy perception that they are devil-worshippers, and have caused the local river to turn red. The little girl of the family, Loren (AnnaSophia Robb) is so feared by the local rubes, in fact, that at one point they are ready to set off in pickups to kill her. Swank and Co. must set about rowing through the river, colored a convincing shade of red through impressive special effects, in order to determine the scientific reason for the discoloration and calm down the God-fearing populace. At one point a few frogs also plop down from the sky into the river, but I couldn't figure out if that was supposed to count as a separate plague or the same one. And by the way, if a biblical plague is town-specific, which it apparently is, can't you just move one town over?

p>Even more perplexing is the existence of Stephen Rea in this film, as a priest whose every scene consists of him making phone calls from inside a small room to Swank's character and warning her of danger. The two characters apparently knew each other long ago, with Rea having the backstory on why Swank went all cuckoo-atheist, but Rea's scenes could have been filmed five years ago for a completely different film -- that's how little they have to do with what's happening in The Reaping. And once Father Exposition is done running up long-distance charges calling Oscar winners, what do you think happens to him? No, really, I'm asking -- what happens to him? Cause even after I watched the scene, I still don't get it. Anyway, the backstory he continually references is shown in confusing snippets -- I'm taking a stab in the dark here, but I think what is supposed to be gotten across is that Swank was formerly a missionary in Africa, and some African witchdoctor killed her kid, which turned her into the miracle-debunking atheist she is.

Back in the present day action, Swank and her partner (who seems at times to be coming on to her, getting very close and stroking her arm, while never actually making a move, which is another unnecessary Directing 101-level distraction) continue to work, and there are a lot of scenes of Swank walking around in the creepy old mansion she's holed up in, so that Hopkins can set up I Know What You Did Last Summer-type of scares in a movie that's supposed to be about religious terror. Swank eventually discovers that the plagues, while real and supernatural, are in fact the work of Satan, not God -- God's PR people would have been very peeved at Warner Bros. otherwise. The plagues are being ginned up by a small group of satanists who apparently want very much to be left alone by the townsfolk, but also don't anticipate that anyone will come bothering them when they turn the local river into cherry Kool-Aid. Outing the source of the plagues leads us to the third act, which is 'money back' bad.

I'm not going to get into specifics about it, but I was watching the ending very carefully, and I'm pretty sure that it couldn't possibly make sense, considering what's come before -- villains who admitted they were villains and acted like villains would have to have been wrong about being villains, for one thing. The ending also contains one of those shock-twists that are thrown in just before the credits to send you out of the theater with one last jolt, but instead it just insults the intelligence of any audience members who have done director Stephen Hopkins the courtesy of paying attention to his film. This is the one that reveals Hopkins to be the hack we always suspected he was -- any self-respecting filmmaker would have taken their name off of a film that so trumpets studio interference and treats the audience like Pavlovian subjects instead of as people who've come to see a good story. Even though I somehow don't blame Swank for this debacle, I think I'll probably avoid Hopkins pictures from now on.