dir: Scott Stewart
Jesus H Christ on a pogo stick…
Pity poor Paul Bettany. No, really. He’s a decent actor, he’s achieved the Mt Everest of personal achievements by having had sex several times with Jennifer Connolly, and even married her, and had kids with her. He’s handsome, he’s charming, but he can’t get a decent break as an actor.
The most successful films he’s been in are ones in which he doesn’t physically appear (he does some computer voice in the Iron Man films), and in The DaVinci Code he played a self-flagellating albino nun-raping assassin. Have fun telling your mum about that role.
Almost everything else he’s done has been shit. No, that not fair, he was a splendid Stephen Maturin in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but other than that, it’s all terrible crap.
To whit, he somehow was one of the few people who saw that terrible film Legion that came out a couple of years ago and thought “Wow, I should work with that terrible director again!”
And he did, because, on some level, Legion must not have been one of the dumbest and worst flicks he’s ever seen or been in. Sure as shit it’s one of the worst flicks from 2010 that I saw, so one of us is clearly wrong.
Then again, what the fuck do I know? He gets to bang Jennifer Connolly, and I get to bitch about his poor script choices splayed out over the tubes of the internets, where worthless opinions go to die.
It’s inexplicable to me that he chose this script. He must really like Scott Stewart, because working again with him again sounds like a form of punishment more than a chance to make some movie magic. The fact that Priest is marginally better than Legion is not much of a recommendation.
I’m going to fight, fight, fight that terrible impulse I possess to talk about a film different from the one being reviewed, but I will say, for the last time, that Legion was a deeply retarded film in which Paul Bettany gave a terrible gun-tottin’ performance as an angel. In this action extravaganza called Priest, he plays a warrior priest with a cross image on his face who lives to fight against vampires, who totes crucifixes and blades instead of guns. Now that’s radically different.
That’s it, that’s the whole premise. Not only is this based on a comic-book, it’s based on a Korean comic book, in which on an alternate earth, vampires have been slaughtering humans for centuries. The world has been driven down into a post-apocalyptic state, which now means most people either live in some version of the 1930s, the Wild West, or a gloomy totalitarian place where the clergy, ostensibly Christian, rule the peasants with an iron fist.
The Priest, who’s supposedly very good at killing vampires, has some family living in the west, and they get slaughtered bar one. A girl, with some link to the priest, is kidnapped and not killed by the Apache, sorry, the vampires, who have some plan involving the priest. Or something.
So the priest and some guy (Cam Gigandet) have to join forces to save the girl. But, does the priest plan on saving the girl, or killing her? That’s the second reference to The Searchers I’ve had to make in a week, and I’m not happy about it.
This is a really strange movie, and not a very enjoyable one. Bettany growls his dialogue like he’s trying to sound like Christian Bale trying to sound like Clint Eastwood, with an accent you start off assuming has to be for laughs. For shits and giggles, at the very least.
But then the laughs don’t ensue, and you’re the fool who paid to watch him grumble and grunt his way through a tedious film. So who’s the one who really fucked up?
Well, I still like to think it’s Paul Bettany, because he’s the one who has to go home and watch his wife polish her Best Actress Oscar, and all he’s got is a hangover and the shame of having whored himself out for a substandard action film.
The ‘world’ the film ‘creates’ is the cheap and nasty kind of world that can be generated on the cheap through cut-rate CGI and lots of desert shots. The city shots look like they could have been lifted from Blade Runner, which is still a great flick, no doubt, but came out nearly thirty years ago. If you can’t think up a better or newer way to depict a cityscape than shit from thirty years ago, you either aren’t hiring the right art directors, you don’t have a decent budget to work with, or you really shouldn’t be making movies at all.
As a neo-Western, it pointlessly and unnecessarily transforms everything into sheriff this and reservation square-dance that, in ways that make no sense, no fucking sense, especially since it also throws vampires and superbikes and all sorts of dunderheaded technology into the rancid salad as well. It’s a genre-mashing mess with no inventiveness or humour to justify the expenditure of our time.
It does have some action scenes. It is an action flick after all. The priest does get to kick all sorts of CGI arse. I’d say, in a rare moment of even-handedness, that the action scenes are handled fairly well. They’re not great, but they’re okay, as long as they don’t involve the entirely CGI vampires themselves, who are four-legged eyeless-lamprey type monsters and look pretty crappy.
Late in the game they add in another warrior priest, a female one this time, in order to make the main priest chap look less gay or seem more human and relatable. As if anyone cared. As if anyone needed emotional resonance to overlook all the other crap that was being served up. That being said, Maggie Q is surprisingly good in an absurd role, bringing pathos and beauty to a film sorely lacking in it. Even with a cross tattoo on her face, she actually acts and emotes in a decent way, unlike every other person in the entire goddamn flick.
Karl Urban, as the main villain, uses that same one expression he’s been using for most of his career, and as such glowers and mumbles entirely independent of whether cameras are rolling or not. He’s good in some other films, definitely not here, but it’s not like this script could give him a chance to do anything but.
Worst on ground has to be the shmendrick who ‘loves’ the main damsel in distress, who’s called Hick, or Hicks, or Dick or something equally appropriate. He’s horrible in surprising new ways, and assays the worst character and performance in a flick overflowing with averageness all around. And that includes a character in drag played by Christopher Plummer.
He (being the Hicks shitkicker) has this way of squeezing his dialogue out of his mouth, while scrunching up his face in this way that makes you wish a vampire would rip his head off so we don’t have to look at or hear him ever again. A sterling achievement, you wonderful people.
Look, no-one’s expecting anything credible from this flick or this kind of flick. It’s almost deliberately made for people who want to watch a film drunk and mock it mercilessly, disbelievingly with a bunch of friends. The fact that it’s a Westernised version of a Korean comic which has Christian priests as supernatural warriors striding across the desert wastelands in pursuit of vampires means no-one, Korean or otherwise could possibly take this seriously. And I don’t know which is more warped – the Korean version of Christianity, or the Hollywood take on the vampire – techno – Westerns with supernatural overtones. Let’s just call it Blade 4 and be done with it.
As a genre-mashing exercise, this ranks significantly lower than Cowboys and Aliens. Honestly. Think about that for a few minutes. And as for a vampire flick, well, they’re all pretty terrible, aren’t they? Add this stinker to the pile; that large pile that also contains all the shitty action-sci fi flicks that are still ripping off the Matrix flicks like they just came out yesterday.
5 crosses through the eyeballs so you don’t have to watch lazy action flicks again out of 10
“After all, if you're not committing sin... you're not having fun.” – words to live and die by - Priest