Starring: Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, Karl Urban, Maggie Q, Stephen Moyer, Christopher Plummer, Lily Collins, Brad Dourif
Director: Scott Charles Stewart
Writer(s): Cory Goodman, Min-Woo Hyung (Graphic Novel)
Cinematography: Don Burgess
Original Score: Christopher Young
Running Time: 87 Mins.
So, this is Paul Bettany’s second attempt at playing the lead in a big (ish) budget fantasy with ex-SFX man Scott Charles Stewart at the helm, can they hit the pay dirt this time and learn from their mistakes after the dull and lifeless Legion…in a word, no. Priest IS a marginal improvement over Legion in that it at least offers up a little more from its potentially fun premise than the guys previous effort could muster but to be fair that is like saying a losing an arm is better than losing a leg, in fact their isn’t anything here that suggests Stewart is capable of directing anything other than a slapdash film that shamelessly rips ideas from other, marginally, better films, think Jonah Hex’s animated prologue, I Am Legend feral vamps, a future war look from Book of Eli or any number of post-apocalyptic efforts.
But n, the pillaging doesn’t end there, these elements are then strung together with a plot that is pure western in its execution (The Searchers in particular), and has a loner “hero” who grunts his lines and is more than prepared to kill the niece he hunts for if she has been “turned”. No this is not a film about lesbianism, the turning I speak of concerns vampires and in this current market of vampire movie saturation you need to be good to stand-out, suffice to say Priest doesn’t. The opening introduces an admittedly neat idea, that a war between vampire and human kind threatened to destroy the Earth leaving the church to resorting to training a group of “priests” that have “special abilities” r.e. they are pretty much superhuman with ultra fast reflexes and a nice line in throwing stars and daggers (they don’t use guns see), however said priests are rendered useless in the face of the vamps retreating…or have they?
The main issue is that the whole thing is so hastily sped through that we don’t get to know anything about a single character for long enough so that it registers on an emotional level, this in turn leaves the action scenes flat as they lack in any form of tension. Bettany is, as ever, a capable actor and makes for a striking presence as the priest of the title. But he is afforded nothing to work with script-wise and is simply reduced to killing and grumbling hokey lines of exposition, largely to Cam Gigandet’s lawman who looks thoroughly confused.
Many fantasy films of late have had a crack at reinvigorating the genre in some kind of 80’s style Krull revival, Solomon Kane was one that seemed to know what to do with it’s “new” star and limited budget making the scope fit well, though Priest’s budget was higher it is squandered on below-par vamps and some shoddy 3D that recalls the worst parts of the Resident Evil franchise, not a comparison anyone would want lumbering with! Thankfully Bettany is more charismatic than Jovovich, though the same can’t be said for the rest of the casting, they either look baffled (a la Gigandet and Maggie Q as … priestess?) or appear in the briefest, and most needless, of cameos such as Plummer and Dourif…and the less said about Urban as the Black Hat, the better!
The worst offence carried by Priest however is its incessant dour tone, they is no room for fun here as everything is so heavy handed…and handled, a capital offence when your premise takes in vamp killing priests with a little humour and pizzazz called for, even a comedy sidekick would have been welcome to provide a break, unfortunately the initial mild interest of the SFX wanes to nothing in the end and a train set finale is fumbled with no tension and one of the poorest face off’s between hero and villain for quite some time…I can safely say I don’t look forward to another Stewart/Bettany fantasy film!
If not one of the poorest of the year Priest will definitely go down as the film that squaders a fun premise in the worst way possible, over quickly enough not to rant over it is none-the-less lifeless…much like the vampire hordes that inhabit it’s world…on the plus side it IS better than Legion, just.