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Saturday, May 14, 2011

‘Priest’ Has Committed Many Sins


Priest:  1 ½ out of 5
Hicks:  Are you teaching me how to shoot?
Priest:  I’m teaching you how to kill vampires.
I want to know what happened behind the scenes during the production of this movie.  It would have to be more interesting than anything that happened in this film.  The film is based off of a very popular Korean comic series, so I would like to think that someone brought in a presentation to Charles B. Hollywood and his staff of budgeters, gave some thoughts on how he could turn this comic series into a surefire winner, and was then promptly escorted out of the building, while the execs counted the ways to make this film work to their benefit.  As a result, you have this messy piece of work that delivers many things that are hot right now.  Vampires – check; cool, slow motion fight scenes – check; sci-fi setting – check; lone badass on a motorcycle – check; disregard the source material – check; PG-13 rating, so monsters can be killed, but appeal to a wide audience – check; 3D post conversion – double check.  At only 87 minutes, this is certainly a film that crams plenty into its short runtime.  It is a good thing that they manage to leave it open for a sequel (psst. no it isn’t).


My hat is off to Paul Bettany, who really stood by this film.  He stars as a character known only as Priest.  Along with many others bestowed with a similar title, Priest was once part of an elite guard that would do battle against the race of vampires.  Not the classically suave version of vampires, instead, the universe of this film presents a series of monstrous creatures that crawl on all four legs, and seem to only exist to eat and fight.  Anyway, once it was thought that the war between humans and vampires was over, the Priests were essentially deactivated and left to fend for themselves in a society that they do not belong in.  The setting is a dreary future where a majority of humanity lives within the walls of a city set permanently at night.  The “Church” now rules this land, with an iron fist brought down by a high order of clergy men led by Christopher Plummer as angry, English authoritarian figure.

The plot is set in gear by the mysterious abduction of the daughter of the Priest’s brother, Owen (played by Stephen Moyer, of True Blood fame).  Priest disobeys the orders of the church and leaves the city walls in order to find her.  He is aided by a sheriff, Hicks (Cam Gigandet), who runs a nearby town outside of the city walls.  Another Priest (Priestess, played by Maggie Q), along with three other Priests (this could get confusing), are sent to capture Priest and bring him back, because the Church is not willing to believe that there still exists a vampire threat.  As things carry on, we find Priest, Priestess, and Hicks all teaming up to rescue the girl and stop this new vampire threat.  Of course, things may only get more complicated, due to the presence of the mysterious man in a black hat (named Black Hat and played  by Karl Urban), who seems to have strength comparable to the Priests.  Oh, by the way, the Priests have super awesome fighting powers.  I meant to note that earlier.


If there is something to take away from this film…then I missed it; however, I can go into detail about why it fails.  It is essentially a combination of a lot of interesting, cool, and fairly inspired ideas that have all come together in the worst possible way.  For all of the effort put into creature, character, and production design, there was not a moment that I felt this film had its own personality, let alone fun with what it was trying to do.  Worse than being so bad it’s good, Priest is just dull to sit through, and not even the tacked on 3D (which delayed this film’s release for nearly a year) could save it.

Director Scott Stewart previously gave us Legion, which also starred Bettany.  That was the film about an angel with machine guns helping out a group of people in a diner, as they faced off against the apocalypse (you can find the most appropriate article about that film HERE).  Describing Legion in a sentence was more entertaining than Priest.  Stewart has emerged from being a part of many visual effects crews to director status and while I want to admire the work that he is doing, it is very hard to when his visual senses can’t create a proper narrative.  I was ready to not care too much about the story, but the film’s presentation in terms of action and motifs fitting for the genre do not do the rest of the film any favors.  It certainly moves quick enough, as this film seems to have no room for subtlety or growth, but it throws so many ideas at the viewer, without really caring what sticks.


One of the worst offenses has to be the dialogue in this film, which is horrendously bad.  It got to the point of me thinking about what this film could have been like as a silent film.  Given how obvious the story layout was, I probably would have been able to follow the film just as well through music cues and the various looks that the characters give each other, while benefiting from not having to hear these people talk.  It is a shame, because I do like a lot of the people in this cast. 

Paul Bettany is doing his best to be “sci-fi man with no name”, while Karl Urban is going for sci-fi Lee Van Cleef.  In concept that could be a lot of fun.  The film adopts a western motif (hello Firefly), set within its sci-fi/horror atmosphere, but the self-seriousness of what all these characters are fighting for does not leave room for fun or self-awareness to inch its way out.  It is just a lot of dreariness, broken up by the occasional action sequences, which seem to have taken many cues from The Matrix films.  The rest of the cast does not fare much better.  Maggie Q does what she can to fill the “girls kicking ass” quota, despite the rest of what is written for her character, but the worst offender is Gigandet, who is completely wooden throughout this film.


Clearly I was not a fan of Priest.  I am essentially stopping myself short of ranting further about it.  Going into the film, I was not expecting much.  I knew who was involved, the long process of getting the film to theaters, and what the general consensus was already.  Still, there could have at least been a level of fun to the film that would have made it worth it.  Not the case here.  While there are design aspects that I did find interesting, the film fell way below the ranks of what I would enjoy as an acceptable B-movie.  Charles B. Hollywood did me no favors here.
Priest:  You would have made a good priest.
Hicks:  Thanks.
Priest:  Don’t let it go to your head.

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