Loosely based on a popular graphic novel series by Ming-Woo Hyung, Priest is an efficient mélange of genres that owes as much to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and John Ford’s The Searchers as it does to supernaturally based manga. Sadly, the only reason it doesn’t get an F is a couple of performances.
When a family is the victim of a vampire attack – in spite of the governing Church declaring there is no vampire threat – it spurs a clerical holy warrior [Paul Bettany], referred to only as Priest – to break his vows and set out for revenge. The victims, you see, include his brother, Owen [Stephen Moyer] and sister-in-law, Shannon [Madchen Amick] – and his niece, Lucy [Lily Collins], is missing.
Prompted by Hicks, [Cam Gigandet], the sheriff of his old hometown, Priest sets out – with said sheriff – to track down the vampires responsible and, if possible, save his niece [or, if she is ‘infected,’ kill her]. His departure prompts the head Monsignor [Christopher Plummer] to send four more clergy [three Priests, one Priestess] to bring him back – dead or alive!
In this world, vampires and humans are two different races that have warred since forever – until the Priests were created/trained and won, forcing the remaining vampires to live in underground reservations, under guard.
Somehow, Priest’s script, by Cory Goodman, manages to set up all kinds of sub-text and then… completely ignores those possibilities in favor of a simple series of bloody, fast-paced action sequences. Director Scott Stewart [Legion, in which Bettany was one of the few virtues] keeps things coming fast and furious [oops! Wrong genre!], but very much cinematically glib.
Despite the occasionally cool action choreography, there’s not a lot going on beyond the slick, well-polished surface. Only Bettany and Maggie Q [Priestess]give their characters any depth.
In Bettany’s case, there’s real pain behind his eyes and, in Q’s case, there’s empathy and intelligence – made all the more unexpected because of the way her costume exploits her beauty [though Q has always been able to project a complexity beneath her admittedly beautiful surface]. Everyone else in the film is two-dimensional [at best] and though the CG and 3D are solid, they really don’t add a great deal to the film.
If you must see everything Bettany or Q is in, then they will provide enough for you to make it worth your time to see Priest. If not, it will be a towering disappointment.
Final Grade: D+