What's with Hollywood's fixation on vampires and graphic novels? It seems every time I turn around, there's another wasteland apocalyptic tale of desolation and bloodsuckers. And what's with Paul Bettany's decision to suddenly become an action star? Wasn't he just a skinny British actor there for a while? Now, he seems to always be some sort of muscular angel/demon/hero with religious overtones.
With a storyline taken straight from John Ford's classic The Searchers, Priest features a warrior/priest (Bettany) from a dystopian wasteland who sets aside his sacred vows, disobeys church law and embarks on a quest to track down the vampires who kidnapped his niece. He's joined on his crusade by a trigger-happy young wasteland sheriff (Cam Gigandet sporting a really bad haircut), and a former warrior priestess (Maggie Q).
Sound familiar? It's a lot like Star Wars without the stifling cuteness. Based on a manhwa (Korean comic) series by Hyung Min-woo that fuses the Western genre with supernatural horror, the novel is notable for its unusual, angular art style. Director Scott Stewart (Legion) captures some of this, but succumbs to showing off his special effects credentials and forcing us to endure his Legion-style directing that relies on uncomfortable scenes with unnecessary dialogue. Priest resembles Book of Eli meets Tron with some of the I Am Legend monsters thrown in. The 3D beats the hell out of The Last Airbender, but still is sub par compared to Drive Angry/Bloody Valentine, and there is surprisingly ample blood seepage for a PG-13-rated movie.
So we have a director who made one of the worst movies ever with Legion, again directing Bettany, who looks like a monk with a tattoo cross on his face delivering scratchy Clint Eastwood-like whispers. Then we have a guy who looks like Clint Eastwood from the spaghetti western days (Karl Urban) wearing a serape and broad brim hat while playing an evil vampire. Of course, the rival enemies have one big showdown in a Road Warrior meets Fast and Furious train chase finale.
I remember when Bettany starred and actually acted in Lars von Trier's Dogville. How did he morph into an action hero? Was it just his cold glare or handsome physique? It seems that Bettany has fallen from grace and is now stuck in paycheck movies that give him little to do except utter bad dialogue and fly around the air punching, clobbering and stabbing things.
I thought Priest was going to prove rewarding, but it's a perfect example of great previews and only a so-so movie. And really, can we be done with the damn vampires for a bit, Hollywood?
Starring Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q
Director: Scott Stewart