Priest


Priest

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(2011) Sci-Fi Horror (Screen Gems) Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Maggie Q, Cam Gigandet, Lily Collins, Steven Moyer, Brad Dourif, Christopher Plummer, Alan Dale, Madchen Amick, Dave Florek, Joel Polinsky, Josh Wingate. Directed by Scott Stewart

Conscience can be a tricky thing. We are often called to do what our conscience demands and that can be at odds with what those around us say is right. The person following their conscience is either a hero or a sociopath, depending on your point of view.

The world is at peace. The great Vampire War is at last over, thanks to the Church and its warrior Priests. The surviving vamps and their human familiars have been exiled to heavily guarded reservations, their great hives deserted. The Church is in charge de facto, making productivity and work an article of faith. There is no need of the Priests any longer.

That is, until one such Priest (Bettany) gets a visit from Sheriff Hicks (Gigandet) from the frontier outpost near where the Priest’s brother Owen Pace (Moyer) was working at reclaiming the desert and making it fertile again. He and his family were attacked by vampires, the first such attack in ages. His sister-in-law Shannon (Amick) died in the attack and their daughter Lucy (Collins) kidnapped. The Priest asks permission to leave the city and deal with this but Monsignor Orelas (Plummer) forbids it. The Church’s authority and ultimate control derives from the population believing they’re safe from the vampire threat. Should the Priest leave it could erode the Church’s mandate.

Nonetheless the Priest leaves, travelling to the Outpost on one of the Church’s high tech motorcycles. He arrives to find his brother on death’s door, begging the Priest to rescue Lucy. The Priest hangs around long enough to bury his brother, then takes off with the Sheriff, who is sweet on Lucy, to find the missing girl.

In the meantime, Monsignor Orelas has assigned the Priest’s former crew including a Priestess (Q) who may have a case of hero worship evolving into romantic feelings for him, to find the Priest and bring him back dead or alive. The Priest heads to a nearby reservation to find the vampires missing and guards dead. Only a few familiar and weaker vampires remain. The remaining vamps attack at nightfall and the Priest dispatches them but it’s obvious something very sinister is afoot.

The Priestess catches up with the Priest and Sheriff in an abandoned hive but they are all surprised to find a Hive Guardian – a kind of vampire-infected dog – still guarding the Hive. The Priestess confesses that she’s not there to take the Priest back but to join him instead. The trio discovers that the Hive was recently populated and signs point to a train that is headed into a nearby town.

Behind all the chaos is Black Hat (Urban), a former priest infected by the vampires. He kidnapped Lucy mainly to draw out the Priest – the Black Hat blames Priest for his fall from humanity. The two are going to go mano a vampo before the end, the train headed on a collision course for the unsuspecting city and the corrupt church that rules it.

Stewart’s last movie was Legion and that was another CGI-heavy movie with spiritual overtones that starred Bettany. There the similarities end – in fact, this film has more in common with the John Wayne classic The Searchers (whose plot it pilfered virtually verbatim) than with his last picture. Stewart has a tremendous visual sense; the cityscape is dreary, visually influenced by Blade Runner with its dreary aesthetic. Outside the city are gigantic statues a la Lord of the Rings. The outer frontier is barren wastelands straight out of the westerns of John Ford with a little bit of Mad Max thrown in.

Bettany goes the Clint Eastwood – what is it about would-be action stars that they think they have to grunt their lines through a larynx as squinted as their eyes – route and is at least credible, although I don’t think Vin Diesel or Jason Statham have anything to worry about for now. Maggie Q has a pretty decent action pedigree of her own and while she’s no Michelle Yeoh, she holds her own.

Karl Urban is one of those actors that doesn’t come to mind when thinking of great character actors, but when you think about his most recent performances you realize you can’t think of a bad one. This isn’t one of his finest moments but it still resonates; even the campy one where he conducts the invisible orchestra as his vampires wipe out a town; like most of the best moments in the movie, it’s seen on the trailer.

There are some pretty nice action sequences, particularly the fight in the hive and the climactic battle aboard a moving train. Unfortunately, the movie is played so flat it actually lacks energy; you walk out of it feeling curiously numb, as if you’d just taken a sedative. That’s not a feeling you want to leave an action movie with.

There’s enough to give the movie a bit of a recommendation, but not to urge you to go out of your way to seek it out. The visuals are great and although Bettany’s Eastwood impression doesn’t do the movie any favors, he is at least visually a presence. There is far worse out there and probably much worse to come. There is also much better out there and certainly much better to come.

REASONS TO GO: Some very nicely realized action sequences. Art direction is magnificent; the setting is imposing and combines the Wild West and science fiction genres nicely

REASONS TO STAY: Bettany’s channeling of Eastwood is distracting. For all the grand settings the film is curiously passionless.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images as well as some scenes of violence and ghoulishness.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gerard Butler was originally cast in the lead role.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the grand vistas are more effective on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Something Borrowed

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