PRIEST (12A): On General Release Friday 6th May
Paul Bettany loves his religiously-tinged action blockbuster flops. Not content with stinking up the screen with Legion last year (plague of locusts, plague of boils, plague of frogs – fine. Plague of zombies not so much), he returns with the same director Scott Stewart for Priest, a badly judged sci-fi/vampire actioner with all the appeal of a kick to the nuts.
In a world in which man has always faced off against vampires, the escalating conflict has left most of the world a ruined husk. Humans now inhabit vast dystopian Orwellian cities ruled by the unquestionable hand of the church (Christopher Plummer) and the surviving vampire hordes have all been corralled into reservations in vast tracts on uninhabitable desert.
But when a family is ravaged by a pack of vampires and their daughter abducted, the town’s sheriff (the ubiquitous Cam Gigandet) goes looking for help. He finds it in the taciturn Priest (Bettany), a member of a formerly elite group of vampire hunters, who are now all but forgotten. With the ruling church not wanting to upset the status quo by admitting vampire incursion, he’s forced risk excommunication by riding off into the desert on his massive bike to fight the blood-sucking beasties led by drawling cowboy vampire Karl Urban.
Priest waddles along like someone who’s tried to wear every fancy dress costume at once. It’s impractical, unwieldy and looks damn stupid. Every genre gets a look in – western, sci-fi, horror, revenge, vampire, war but there’s absolutely no cohesion between any of these elements – it’s like a man who got dressed in the dark.
Here a bit of Equilibrium, there a bit of The Matrix, a splattering of Blade Runner, a dash of The Searchers, a sprinkle of Ultraviolet. But actually what it has most in common with is actually Josh Brolin/Megan Fox uber-turkey Jonah Hex, but with none of the fun. At least Jonah Hex had Gatling Gun Horse – Priest has Paul Bettany’s permanent scowl and humourless one-liners instead.
Spotting Priest’s numerous plot holes can actually be quite a fun game and even that could be forgiven if the film were halfway entertaining. Sadly, even though its running time is a paltry 87 minutes, its repeated regurgitation of the same old clichés will leave many viewers asleep in their seats. The dialogue is so unfathomably bad; it’s as if it’s been sent off for in instalments from the side of cornflakes packets, which would be completely forgivable if it had even a glimmer of sense of humour (some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best work revolves around a steady stream of terrible one-liners) but Priest depressingly decides to play it straight.
The CGI monsters are completely unconvincing; darkened by the unnecessary post-production 3D conversion, they fail to inspire anything but the most cursory of shrugs. Watching Paul Bettany jump 20 feet in the air to slice a CGI vampire in half (they look more like eyeless demonic versions of Gollum than vampires in any recognisable sense) for the umpteenth time is simply dull. Fight scenes involving any human characters are similarly predictable – there’s only so many times you can watch someone be uppercutted 30 feet in the air before you lose interest.
Priest had a lot of potential to be enjoyable trash but unfortunately what it delivers is bloodless, unimaginative dross which is as soulless as its CGI creations.