Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Priest (2011)

Paul Bettany kicks arse for the Lord.

Image: Sony Pictures

Priest was due to come out over a year ago but was delayed thanks to a lengthy conversion to 3D before finally getting a quiet release into cinemas. The second of Paul Bettany’s action-horrors with director Scott Stewart after the disappointing Legion, the hope was that this sci-fi vampire western would be an improvement.

In an alternate future, the war with vampires has led to mankind finding shelter in walled cities under the protection/rule of the church. Church ordained killers called priests drove the vampires into guarded reservations, and have since taken regular jobs and dingy apartments. But when Priest (Bettany) finds out that his brother’s daughter has been kidnapped, he breaks his oath to obey the church and rides out to find her, accompanied by a cocky sheriff (Cam Gigandet) and old friend Priestess (Maggie Q).

Firstly, and somewhat predictably, the 3D conversion has been a waste of time.  Secondly, Priest has more pressing problems. After an animated pre-credits sequence that explains the back-story and has more blood than the rest of the film, we’re introduced to the Blade Runner/Judge Dredd city that sets the dour and grim tone. For a film that mashes together so many genres and references there’s not a wink or a knowing tip of the hat to be had.

The film is based on Min-Woo Hyung’s comic book series, and Stewart has acknowledged the debt the story owes to The Searchers, but in addition to the films already mentioned the influence of The Matrix (of course), The Road Warrior, and even 1984 are a little too obvious. We’ve never read the comic but there’s enough here to suggest that it might be worth a look, although it’s not been translated particularly well to film. The steam-punk technology and weaponry allows for a little inventiveness in the action sequences, but for the majority of the film there’s a sense of plodding predictability. 

Bettany is too interesting an actor to be wasted on a part that requires him to do nothing but scowl and intone vampire facts hoarsely. Presumably he was sold on the action and the chance to play a warrior priest who hunts vampires through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Gigandet (Twilight) and Maggie Q (Mission Impossible 3) are game but are given little to work with. Karl Urban (Star Trek) grins his way through his hammy turn as villain Black Hat, but getting all the best lines doesn’t help with a script as weak as this. Christopher Plummer appears as the Big Brother Monseigneur, and Stephen Moyer (True Blood) pops up briefly as Priest’s doomed brother. The most energetic performance comes from cult legend Brad Dourif who appears for about three minutes as a con artist.

Despite the occasional nice touch, Priest fails to rise above its plodding, cliché-ridden script. The 12A certificate would suggest that they’re going for a young audience, but the chances are that they’ve seen at least some of the films this is referencing, and will be just as annoyed as the adults by this bloodless twist on a tired formula. Finally, this leaden film takes itself much too seriously for a western/vampire/sci-fi mash-up.

May hold enough entertainment for a half-watched late night movie on DVD with friends, but this is a dull missed opportunity.



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