Love or hate them, priests have always been contentious public figures. Fire and brimstone sermons, dipping into the church coffers or abusing children... the stigma of being a priest almost overshadows the religious and sacred duties associated with the holy role. Although, any mediator between mortal man and a deity is going to be subjected to a witch hunt and there's bound to be some hypocrisy... they're only human. So when the trial by fire has been called off and the priest has proved worthy through baptism, exorcism and salvation-ism... what's left for them to do? Kill vampires of course.
Well, that's the premise for new science-fiction western actioner, Priest in 3D. Paul Bettany has become the go-to guy when it comes to playing controversial religious figures. He was Silas the red-eyed monk in The Da Vinci Code, Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory in Creation and the archangel Michael in Legion. So it was almost inevitable that the underrated British actor would seize the title character in Priest.
Paul Bettany may not be a headline star like his The Tourist co-stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, but he's gradually becoming one. Priest gives him a chance to further his action man credibility on the back of his role in Legion, teaming up yet again with Legion director, Scott Charles Stewart. It's true... the director has three first names, yet ironically is still in the process of making a name for himself. Right now, Stewart is dabbling... with religion, action and visual effects forming the basis of all his films to date. Legion and Priest have both swayed this way with style over meaning and it looks like his next film, The Mortal Instruments will follow suite.
The premise is simple... a priest disobeys the church to track down his niece in vampire country. You can't really expect too much depth from a graphic novel when it comes to film adaptations. 30 Days of Night, 300... seems anything goes as long as you give your movie a set style, violence, mythology and blood. Sin City may be one of the exceptions, but Priest has gone with stylish action gore in a clash of kung fu priests and blood-thirsty vampires... not your average Sunday night feature.
The style is good. The visual effects are good. The action is good. The rest... not so good. Priest feels like its been cut to shreds in the editing room. The pacing is electric... moving rapid-fire from one scene to the next without giving the audience a chance to appreciate the action or visual effect artistry. Just as soon as the light from one kick-ass moment fades... the characters are riding gung-ho onto the next thing. This could be due to a script that may as well have been a set of cue cards with random cheesy one-liners or because the rotten parts were too bad to see the light of day.
What we're left with is a rushed, stone skip of an action movie. The set design, CGI and costumes are fantastic, but they treat the audience like a bunch of monkeys with a short attention span. Dumb dialogue, lightning fast scene changes... it feels like an 80 minute trailer for the full-length film. To add insult to injury they've left the movie wide open for a sequel just like Legion did. Except, whatever happened to first making the original good enough to warrant a continuation?
Priest only seems to land most of the good stuff in the last 15 minutes and covers each exciting plot development in such quick succession that you wonder why they didn't actually explore them with the other 30 minutes of missing celluloid. The supporting performances from sidekicks Maggie Q and Cam Gigandet are passable for an action movie and pretty good when you look at how little script they actually had to chew on. Karl Urban even manages to muster up some grit as Black Hat. However, Priest is limited by its video game quality.
Despite all it's shortcomings... this actioner is watchable and entertaining as a mindless, forgettable bit of action fluff. It never lets its audience go from a visual point-of-view and provides enough decent monster action in a familiar setting to pass the time. Sure, they've borrowed and stealed... from Priest's take on Christian Bale's Batman voice, Underworld themes, style and action, Matrix costumes, the Mines of Morior creature from The Lord of the Rings, the train action from The Legend of Zorro and set it within a Jonah Hex/Bravetarr style environment, but who cares? The 3D visuals and sound are a plus, but aren't essential if you just want to veg.
The bottom line: Half-baked.