Written by: Cory Goodman
Directed by: Scott Stewart
Starring: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, and Cam Gigandet
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"To go against the church is to go against God."
Forgive me, but Iím about to sound like an old codger for a moment. You see, back in my day, post-apocalyptic wastelands featured biker gangs, thunderdomes, and Mel Gibson. However, if weíre to believe the likes of I Am Legend and Daybreakers, the endtimes wonít be complete without vampires. Priest offers a similarly bleak and bloodsucking outlook for the future too--and yes, that statement can double as an indictment of the film's quality.
Paul Bettany is one of many priests who once formed a badass sect of vampire hunters; however, they all became useless after humanity finally managed to defeat the vampires after a centuries-long feud. The also managed to destroy most of the world too, as the only thing left standing are vast wastelands and walled cities that are ruled by the church. Though the vampire menace is believed to have been vanquished, a pack led by a former priest (Karl Urban) descend on an outpost and kidnap a young girl who happens to be Bettanyís niece. Her sheriff beau (Cam Gigandet) enlists Bettanyís help in tracking them down.
For a while there, I thought Screen Gems might have been waiting for the actual apocalypse to finally release the oft-delayed Priest (youíve got to admit, itíd be a hell of a tie-in). Of course, this isnít the case; instead, they held on to it because it kind of sucks and they slapped on some post-conversion 3D in an attempt to bleed every dollar out of it. This is cynical, predictable, and paint-by numbers Hollywood film-making at its finest, as it takes no risks and is content to be a lazy vampire counterpart to the Resident Evil series. Thereís really nothing about Priest that isnít mediocre at best and downright poor at worst. The problem begins with the script, which feels like itís missing a second act; also MIA is any sort of cleverness and a clichť filter. It feels like just about every line of dialogue has been culled by a thirteen year old from some generic action-movie scripts.
From there, director Scott Stewart tries to salvage things with some typical post-Matrix action sequences that reheat bullet time and slow motion to average effect. The vampires themselves are a gooey CGI mess who often travel as a horde, and they basically serve two purposes: they mow down unsuspecting victims, or they get mowed down by Priestís gadgets and the sheriffís gunfire. If anything, Priest does sport some cool designs; the walled-in city is an even more bleak and despairing update of Blade Runnerís industrial cityscape. The church-driven autocracy is a nice Orwellian touch thatís sadly undercooked; the film hints that Priestís conflict with them is just getting started, but I think the mundane nature of this first outing is going to prevent that from ever happening. The rest of the film is spent in a desolate, dusty wasteland that gives the film a western sensibility, which means that everything eventually culminates with a Leone-lite showdown on a train (a sequence that seems doubly less impressive in the wake of Fast Fiveís train heist).
This is also an example of bad movies happening to good people. Bettany especially is capable of so much more, so Iím not so sure why he continues to slum around apocalyptic wastelands (he was also in Legion, which featured killer angels). All he has to do here is brood and occasionally growl like heís Christian Baleís Batman. Urban (another guy who is a generally awesome badass) just sort of sneers, snarls, and wears a black hat (his attire doubles as his characterís name). Gigandet feels miscast in the role of a supposedly-grizzled sheriff, as he just seems too young naÔve for such a role. I was pleasantly surprised to see Brad Dourif pop up as a slimy salesman-type who ends up being like an evangelical, redneck cousin to Grima Wormtongue. As you might expect, Dourif steals the couple of scenes that heís in.
From what I can gather, Priest does a fairly decent job of butchering the original source material too, so long-time fans will be even more disappointed. An animated sequence that recounts the back-story between humanity and the vampires stays faithful to the comic-book roots, but, after that, it does its own thing. This is likely to be disappointing for Screen Gems as well, as they pumped a lot of money and time into it; their decision to convert it to 3D is an obvious last ditch effort to salvage some profits. Donít fall for that trick, as the third dimension will just make the movieís mediocrity leap out and punch you in the face. Actually, donít bother to reward the studio at all--instead, wait until you can save a few bucks and check it out from the rental service of your choice. Rent it!
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