Monday, May 16, 2011

Movie Review: Priest

Priest ** ½
Directed by: Scott Charles Stewart.
Written by: Cory Goodman based on the graphic novel series by Min-Woo Hyung.
Starring: Paul Bettany (Priest), Karl Urban (Black Hat), Cam Gigandet (Hicks), Maggie Q (Priestess), Lily Collins (Lucy Pace), Brad Dourif (Salesman), Stephen Moyer (Owen Pace), Christopher Plummer (Monsignor Orelas), Alan Dale (Monsignor Chamberlain), Mädchen Amick (Shannon Pace).

Priest is a movie that works a hell of lot better than it really has any right to. It is a silly story, set in a dystopian future where the Church (what church is never named, probably in the hope of avoiding pissing anyone off) controls all the daily aspects of their citizens lives. They have just ended the Vampire Wars, where the only reason why the humans won was because an elite group of soldiers, called Priests, with crosses tattooed on their foreheads that were finally able to quell the vampire resistance. The Vampires were sent to live on Reservations, and most of humanity lives in dark, gloomy cities, where they do not question the church. Some live outside the walls in the Wastelands that offers more freedom, but also more danger. One such family is attacked – the parents killed, and the pretty, young daughter kidnapped. The Sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet) comes to see the girls uncle, a Priest (Paul Bettany) to ask for his help in tracking down the vampires who kidnapped her. The Church refuses to grant him permission, but he goes anyway. We know from the outset who the bad guy is – a former Priest, left to die at the hands of the vampires, now hell-bent on revenge. This is Black Hat (Karl Urban), who does indeed where a Black Hat.

Priest is purely a B grade action movie. Directed by Scott Charles Stewart, who also made last year’s Legion starring Bettany as an Angel come down from heaven to protect a small dinner from an invading horde of demons, who want to kill the unborn child of a waitress who will become humanity’s new savior, Priest is a movie that has an fine visual look and style – dark and murky, with action sequences that don’t use rapid fire editing and shaky camera movement, which is refreshing for once. It is a definite improvement over Legion, even though this movie is shot in 3-D, which adds nothing to the look of the film. Usually I hate 3-D in live action movies, because it makes the movie look like it we’re watching it through a dirty window (this is the reason I avoided the 3-D Thor last weekend, instead going with 2-D), but here, the film is so dark anyway, that I didn’t really notice the 3-D one way or another.

Bettany is not who I think of when I think of an action star, and yet in these two movies, he has been the main reason to watch. Here, playing a mysterious Priest, with a dark past, he does a fine job. Yes, you should be able to guess his back story fairly easily at least an hour before the film lets you know what it is, but he plays it well. Karl Urban makes a menacing villain, going delightfully over the top. Cameos by Christopher Plummer and Brad Dourif help give their scenes a kick. The rest of the cast is fairly average and forgettable – but at least they do not stand out like sore thumbs (like I think Gigandet has done in pretty much every other movie he’s been in). They are simply there.

Priest is not a good movie. It isn’t even all that close to a good movie. And yet, it isn’t a boring movie either. It isn’t a film that made me roll by eyes at the ridiculousness of what is on the screen, like many of these B grade action/horror movies (like the Underworld or Resident Evil series’) do. Perhaps the best thing you can say about Priest is that it holds your attention for its 88 minute running time, and is mildly entertaining. If that sounds like a back handed compliment, that’s because it is.

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