Priest – Dir: Scott Stewart; *ing: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Maggie Q, Lily Collins, Cam Gigandet, Stephen Moyer
Paul Bettany, you are an incredibly hot man and a terrific actor to boot, so why on earth are you slumming it in Scott Stewart’s pseudo-Blade Runner/Man With No Name post-apocalyptic crap fests like Legion and Priest?!?!
Pardon, I wasn’t supposed to begin with this angsty primal scream moment but it is teeth-gnashingly frustrating when some actors seem hell-bent on squandering their talent in material that is best left scraped off on the edge of a pavement. Nicolas Cage is guilty of it, and De Niro has been pulling it for years now, to name only two, but it never gets easier on a filmgoer’s soul to see a beloved thespian ham it up, chew scenery, and generally just sign over his 21 grams to Lucifer, without so much as a ‘I’m doing it for the cash, okay?’ With an actor like Bettany it is all the more mortifying because, unlike Cage and De Niro, he is not yet a star and so can scarcely afford to louse up his chances. And yet he goes ahead and does it. Again.
Here, he plays the titular man of the cloth whose job description involves more than just taking confession and dishing out penance; namely, he’s a preternaturally gifted assassin, one among an elite army, hand-picked by the church to seek out and vanquish the world’s feral vampire population whom, in this alternate universe, humanity has been battling for centuries. When the film picks up the story, the pale toothy ones have already been permanently disposed of, and the band of clerical warriors has been, well, disbanded, and sent into forced retirement to live out the rest of their days in obscurity. Yeah, that’s what you get for saving the world’s ass from a righteous amount of neck chewing. But when Priest’s niece (Collins) is abducted and his family slaughtered (including True Blood’s main vamp Stephen Moyer in a bit of hokey stunt-casting) by what appears to be a bunch of re-emerged, rogue vamps, led by the supposedly mysterious Black Hat (Urban), the raspy voiced one defies church orders in order to a) rescue the girl, b) kick some serious vampire behind, and c) blatantly eke out a set-up that pretty much screams ‘sequel’.
You can be forgiven for imagining that the religious vein of the scenario must mean that themes of faith – or the lack thereof – and loyalty and church vs. man are explored herein; however, it seems, that the minds behind Priest aren’t as interested in subtexts exploring crises of faith and morality, as they are in exploring, well, vampire innards, varieties of blood spatter formations, and all the ways in which the vicious-looking villains can still be made to look like meowing kittens in the face of Priest’s magnificent proficiency with a flying fist and furrowed brow. I mean really, those vamps don’t stand a chance if Black Hat is the best, most badass one they’ve got; Priest can out-glower that wimp with one eye tied behind his back. And that’s just one of the myriad problems with the film: you never get the feeling that there is anything really big at stake (no pun intended), Priest will take care of it, man, no sweat – read: yawn. Couple that with some of the most god-awful dialogue committed to film in recent memory, and you have the makings of what is surely destined to be a future classic of the ‘so bad it’s good variety’. And it really does not help matters that in an age when we the audience are used to seeing vampires as pasty-faced, brooding hunks of sex on legs, Priest gives us vamps that look like the unholy spawn of the creature from Alien and an uncooked chicken drumstick.
Mr. Bettany, you need to screen calls from Mr. Stewart.
Mr. Stewart, you need to say a thousand and one Hail Mary’s to atone for this colossal mess of stupidity.