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Priest (PG-13)


05/19/11
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



A moody warrior monk type fights CGI mole-vampires in Priest, a gloomy action movie.

Gloomy in part because the city that the Priest (Paul Bettany) lives in is very gray and dark. The city is a kind of fortress against a desiccated wilderness and is run by the Church, a near-totalitarian organization for which the Priest and others like him used to fight. Back in the day, humans were at war with vampires and it was the priests — a group of warriors with enhanced butt-kicking abilities — who were able to keep humans from extinction. Now the vampires all live in reservations and the priests are made to reintegrate into the society (so great is the priests’ power that the Church feared they would one day turn against them).

Priest Bettany (the character appears to have no name) is slogging through his workaday life when Hicks (Cam Gigandet), the sheriff from a town out in the wilderness, comes to tell him that his brother’s outpost has been attacked by vampires. His brother Owen (Stephen Moyer) is seriously injured, his wife Shannon (Madchen Amick) was killed and daughter Lucy (Lily Collins) has been taken. Owen’s dying wish is that Priest rescue Lucy and get as many vampires as he can in the process. Because Hicks is in love with Lucy, he joins Priest on his quest.

What they don’t know — but we do — is that Lucy was taken not just by the eyeless animalistic vampires but by a man who also doesn’t seem to have a name in the movie but who is called Black Hat (Karl Urban) in all the cast lists. As we know from an early flashback to the Priests vs. Vampires war, he was once a priest and was lost in battle when Priest Bettany tried but failed to save him. He’s now a kind of hybrid vampire — with the warrior skills of the priests but the blood-sucking skills of the vampires. He is leading the more feral vampires and clearly has some sort of dastardly plot.

Because recognition that vampires killed the outpost people would mean that the Church hasn’t controlled the vampire menace, Church leader Monsignor Orelas (Christopher Plummer) first forbids Priest to look for Lucy, and when he goes anyway, Orelas reactivates some of the other priests and sends them after him. Included in that posse is Priestess (Maggie Q), a priest-in-arms with Priest from the old days.

As I’ve mentioned, the vampires here, save Black Hat, aren’t the sassy-talking high-style types your Twilights and your True Bloods employ. These are all-CGI, ghoulish-looking monsters with no language, seemingly always poised for a vicious killing. Only familiars — the humans bitten by vampires who serve them but remain, mostly, human — can respond to witty banter and “tell me what you know!”-style questioning/torture. As the sole verbal bad guy controlling a horde of beasts, Black Hat therefore comes off as a “my freeze ray will envelop the world with ice!” kind of villain, and a particularly uninspired variation of the type. Sure, there’s some vengeance and whatnot, but mostly the motivations of all involved are surprisingly (for a movie with warriors and vampires) dull.

Also dull is the look of this film. The movie blends a sort of post-apocalyptic retro-future thing in the city with a whole cowboy thing out on the frontier (the climactic fight, for example, takes place on a speeding train). Everything is grimy and either gray or dust-colored. I can see how the flapping black get-up of Priest and Priestess would seem like they could stand out dramatically against that but, no, even their costumes sort of mush in, making the whole movie feel like it is shot in an unadorned bowl of tepid oatmeal.

Priest — and Priest — can’t ever seem to get its motor going. It never generates the kind of excitement that even a B-movie needs to get you engaged in the adventure, no matter how goofy. Despite its world-in-turmoil story and its grimly handsome lead, Priest is so low-energy that even the gruesome murdering of an entire town full of people feels ho-hum. C-

Rated PG-13 for intense sequence of violence and action, disturbing image and brief strong violence. Directed Scott Charles Stewart and written by Cory Goodman (from a graphic novel by Min-Woo Hyung), Priest is an hour and 27 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.






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