Priest

25 May

Title: Priest
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Scott Stewart
Writer: Cory Goodman, based on the graphic novels by Min-Woo Hyung
Starring: 
Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins, Stephen Moyer, Christopher Plummer, Brad Dourif, Alan Dale
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and brief strong language
Runtime: 
87 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
17%

Priest looks quite cool, but that’s really just about the only nice thing I can say about it. I mean, genuinely, there’s nothing else going on for this movie other than its highly-stylized aesthetic, and while that part of it is admittedly kind of cool to watch it’s not enough to really make this one any sort of stand-out, and considering that the actual plot is just a big incoherent mess that pretty much tried to make a creepy version of a Blader Runner-ish film and ended up massively failing by only delivering cliché after cliché, then you can count me as a big detractor of Priest, yet another film that wastes the talents of the terrific Paul Bettany.

Because Mr. Bettany really is a fine actor, you look at the stuff he’s done in A Beautiful Mind or Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and you just know the guy is capable of doing very special work. Hell, even in more commercial fare like A Knight’s Tale or Wimbledon the guy has managed to excel, but here we have him in Priest, and he gets nothing decent to work with, thus the uninspiring result. And for all the praise I can give to Mr. Bettany, he should also be told upon for not learning from his mistakes. After all, Priest is directed by Scott Stewart, the same guy who directed Mr. Bettany in last year’s only slightly better Legion (which I gave a C to). In my review for Legion I noted that Mr. Bettany was quite okay in it, and certainly the strongest asset of that particular film, but if that wasn’t that much of a compliment then it’s even less of one now, because Priest is pretty much a waste of your time and money.

And by the way, haven’t you noticed that ever since starring in 2006’s adaptation of The Da Vinci Code (a pretty crappy film spawning from an even worse book) as the self-flagellating albino Opus Dei member Silas Mr. Bettany has been sort of typecast into very weird religion-related roles? I mean, he’s the titular Priest in this one and he played an archangel in Legion, and I’m guessing that there’ll be more coming, which is a pity considering how talented we know the man is when given proper material.

But anyways, let’s focus on Priest here. It focuses on a war in this alternate world in which vampires have existed for ages and the humans live in walled cities owned by the Church to defend themselves against possible vampire attacks. Mr. Bettany plays this warrior priest who has his niece kidnapped from him by vampires and starts on a revenge adventure to hunt down the vampires and get his niece back. And for a very little while here, this actually works. Because it starts off kind of cool because of the novelty of the costumes worn by these guys and because the special effects are probably the only thing that was given an ounce of thought in this film and they make it seem as though we’re in for a kickass thrill ride. But we’re really not, the novelty effect dries off quickly enough and we’ll realize that we’re in for a pretty bad film.

It’s just a mess. That’s probably the best word to describe Priest, mess, because it just tries to roll on full steam with allusions to westerns and church rebellions and martial arts and the style of the Korean graphic novels it’s based on, and it just throws this all out there without ever making it mesh together nicely, or at all even, and this film about church-loving ninjas living in an apocalyptic world not even Twilight fans could love falls flat on its face to never get back up again.

I am not, however, gonna give this film a failing grade. That’s partly because of two actors here, one is Mr. Bettany who, like in Legion, is far and out the best thing about Priest and makes some of the horribly dull and stupid dialogue here at least bearable, and the other is Maggie Q, who’s pretty good here as a warrior priestess, though if you really want to see her kickass in material far stronger than this then I suggest you go watch her TV series, Nikita, which just wrapped up its first season on the CW. And it’s also partly because I appreciated the look this film had, as cinematographer Don Burgess (Oscar-nominated for his work on Forrest Gump) crafted some striking exterior shots that gave this film a pretty good atmosphere to work around.

The thing is that Priest never really work around it, as the plot was unbelievably thin, the dialogue pretty dumb and the action scenes though stylized awesome did nothing to add to the overall quality of the film. Yes, vampires and religion and apocalyptic visions of the world have been all the rage in movies for the past few years, but it doesn’t mean that if you mix them all up you’ll automatically get something out of it, you have to actually make it something decent at the very least. And it seems audiences are getting that, as the film has barely surpassed its $60 million budget since its release and likely won’t gather that much more as audiences are jumping ship to better quality or at least better known summer tentpoles, which is good because that means that a sequel to this one, which was set up at the end of the film, will probably never come to fruition.

Grade: C-

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