- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
or someone who made his name playing high-minded characters (think Geoffrey Chaucer in “A Knight’s Tale,” Russell Crowe’s surgeon in “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”), it’s curious that Paul Bettany would volunteer to become Screen Gems’ go-to guy for B-grade action movies. He still makes high-minded movies, but it seems to be more of a hobby than a means to an end, while his day job is as Paul Bettany, Ass Kicker. The strange thing is, the move actually works. Goodness knows the 2009 demonic thriller “Legion” benefited from his presence, and “Priest” is no different. The movie itself is as straightforward a movie you’ll see all year, a streamlined plot with brisk pacing. It doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is, and in this case, that’s a good thing, at least to a point.
Set in a parallel world where humans and vampires have battled for centuries, Bettany is a priest, a member of a special group of warriors the church recruited to battle the vampires. Once the humans contained the vampires, the church kept the population safe inside walled cities and disbanded the priests, turning them into pariahs. When Priest (he has no name) learns that his brother’s family was attacked by vampires and his niece Lucy (Lily Collins) has been kidnapped, he asks the church for permission to investigate but is denied, on the grounds that there are no free vampires. Priest has no choice but to go rogue, and the church in turn sends three priests and a priestess (Maggie Q) to track him down. Lucy’s boyfriend Hicks (Cam Gigandet), the local sheriff, joins Priest on his mission, and they soon discover that the problem is much worse than they originally thought.
There are some nifty touches in the big city sequences. The confession booths are automated, as is the drink service in bars. The motorcycles have electric batteries. Sadly the movie doesn’t spend much time there, since the plot requires Priest to roam the desert landscape for baddies. And those scenes are what bring the movie down. The vampires look like distant cousins of H.R. Giger’s alien, with no eyes and the teeth of an angler fish. And, per modern-day moviemaking standards, they’re entirely CG, and don’t they look it. The vampire-heavy scenes are nearly incomprehensible.
Then again, the incomprehensible nature of the movie may be due to the fact that “Priest” contains the worst 3D conversion we’ve ever seen. With or without the glasses, the images had ghosts, and large chunks of the scenes were out of focus. Did they really think a 3D conversion is what this movie needed? Not better effects, or character development, or perhaps one last script polish to conceal the movie’s supposed (but not really) big surprise? It’s a cynical move on the studio’s part, and if you want it to stop, there is a solution: see the movie in 2D.
“Priest” has the potential to be a decent franchise. The surviving cast boasts some talent in Bettany, Maggie Q and Christopher Plummer as the head of the church, and they’re clearly laying the groundwork for an action-packed sequel. However, until they get their priorities straight and put at least a little effort into making the audience care whether the human characters live or die, it won’t matter. And please, in the name of all that’s holy (see what we did there?), make sure the next one doesn’t bother with that 3D nonsense.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The Blu-ray for "Priest" contains the right amount of bonus features as one would expect for a B-movie franchise-friendly film that didn't quite live up to its expectations. Director Scott Stewart, screenwriter Cory Goodman, and actors Paul Bettany and Maggie Q contribute a very entertaining audio commentary, and the collection of deleted and extended scenes make one wonder why they didn't include certain portions into the finished film. The only other extras are featurettes about the making of the movie and one dedicated to the weapons and vehicles of the movie, both of which are fun but could benefit from more commentary from the movie's actors (Karl Urban appears once, late into the latter featurette). All in all, the studio delivered exactly what the movie deserved.