STARRING: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam
Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins, Steven Moyer, Brad Dourif, Christopher Plummer
2011, 87 Minutes, Directed by:
2010, director Scott Stewart brought a dopey apocalyptic action film titled
Legion to the big screen, which starred Paul Bettany
as an agent of God caught in the middle of an unearthly war.
For 2011, Stewart throws a
curveball with Priest, a dopey apocalyptic action film that stars Paul
Bettany as an agent of God caught in the middle of an unearthly war . . .
And people say there’s no
originality in Hollywood anymore!
Well, instead of combative
angels in a desert setting, the new feature offers a plague of vampires in a
desert setting. Additionally, Priest offers its rusty delights in magical
3D, leaving its dreary lifelessness to linger right in front of your eyes . . .
War has waged for centuries
between humans and vampires, leaving the Catholic Church to train its own guard
of beastly assassins, sent to fend off the bloodsucking hordes, restoring peace
to the land. Now stripped of purpose, Priest (Paul Bettany) has lost himself in
the bowels of a Church-managed megacity, ruled by fear-mongering leaders
(including Christopher Plummer) bent on controlling their sinful subjects.
When his niece, Lucy (Lily
Collins), is kidnapped by a shadowy gang of vampires, Priest defies Church order
and takes off into the wasteland with Sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet), the girl’s
boyfriend, looking for the source of the latest uprising. The trail leads to
Black Hat (Karl Urban), a former hunter transformed into a vicious human/vampire
hybrid, looking to take over the world with his extraordinary powers.
Priest is based on a
Korean comic book series, immediately lending the feature a firm horror/fantasy
springboard to launch a striking franchise of vampire-hunting motion pictures.
"Iffy CG creatures and monotone performances make for a tedious,
hollow, joyless mess . . ."
Steeped in western influences,
the film conjures a brooding atmosphere of pursuit, with a straightforward story
of kidnapping and retrieval, set against a dark alternate universe where
salvation has been automated and denial keeps peace.
Admittedly, it’s a neat
property to monkey around with, using striking images of Priests stomping around
with facial cross tattoos, while fixated men on futuristic motorcycles tear off
at 200 mph into the wasteland, a hopeless area outside of the Church’s control.
Visually, Stewart has much to
work with, only requiring an animated cast and a solid script to breathe life
into the material’s considerable lungs. Uh-oh.
Acting-wise, the film is a
bust, parading around a series of glum performances that fail to seize the
Leone-esque tone Stewart is aiming for.
Bettany plays Priest as a
series of stares, straining to harden himself into a Catholic killing machine
with little patience for vampires or people without facial cross tattoos. His
icy grunts and monotone exposition delivery fail to charge up the alleged
testosterone of the piece. And while his lean physicality works well with the
swirling visual style of the picture, his performance puts the material to
Worse is Gigandet, flopping
uncomfortably as the overwhelmed law enforcer, while Maggie Q (here as
compatriot Priestess) is brought in for her limber martial art moves, not her
thespian skills. As for Urban, I’m trusting the script offered more substance to
lure the actor in, because Black Hat is a shadow of a villain, barely
registering beyond some awkward baddie theatrics and fang flashing.
Perhaps Cory Goodman’s
screenplay was something significant at one point in development, elegantly
exploring Priest’s detective skills and Black Hat’s master plan of upheaval,
developing the dystopian world beyond the mere highlight reel Stewart has signed
off on here.
Running a mere 80 minutes,
Priest glosses right over needed storytelling texture to hit predictable slo-mo
action beats, while the vampire / beast community is populated by iffy CG
creatures, making the film a plastic run of chaos, removing any serious threat.
Maybe I’m giving the filmmakers
too much credit, but I’d like to believe there was once more to Priest
than the tedious, hollow, joyless mess that’s presented here . . .
- Brian Orndorf