'Priest' is an unholy mess

Paul Bettany, a Brit who has done better, stars as a rebellious warrior-priest in this 3D epic.
Paul Bettany, a Brit who has done better, stars as a rebellious warrior-priest in this 3D epic. (Screen Gems)

Sci-fi meets western in a graphic-novel adaptation gone wrong.

Posted: May 14, 2011

There's nothing quite like a hard-core horror pic about a vampire-hunting priest to get the blood pumping on date night.

Priest is not that movie.

A derivative mutt that haphazardly mixes half a dozen incompatible genres, this 3D picture reteams director Scott Charles Stewart and star Paul Bettany, who churned out the equally addled Legion in 2009.

The two pictures are twins.

Legion featured Bettany as a rebellious warrior-angel who descends to Earth on the eve of Armaggedon to save a woman from drooling, icky-looking demons.

In Priest, the otherwise fine British actor plays a rebellious warrior-priest who descends into a dark underground hive to save a teenage girl from drooling, icky-looking bloodsuckers.

Priest, which was adapted from the graphic novel by South Korean artist Min-Woo Hyung, tries to evoke its comic roots with a lame and animated prologue. A voice-over chronicles the eons-long war between humans and vamps. See, the humans were losing until the Church (Catholicism is not mentioned, but implied) trained a cadre of knife-wielding, taekwondo-using supermen from childhood.

These priests, whose foreheads sport a tattooed crucifix (why?!), killed off all the marauding monsters.

Peace is restored and a brave new - totalitarian - world is created by the Church. We see this bleak world in retro-futuristic cityscapes ripped off from Michael Anderson's 1984 and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner.

Billboards spell out the new creed, "Faith. Work. Security." People are forced to pour out their hearts to the clergy in roadside video-phone confessional boxes that look alarmingly like port-o-potties.

The film shifts from sci-fi-land to a western motif when, a la John Ford's The Searchers, Bettany's niece Lucy (Lily Collins) is kidnapped by the head-honcho vampire, an awfully witty cowboy (Stetson and all) played by Karl Urban.

Bettany goes after Lucy with the help of a Priestess (an awfully sexy Maggie Q) and Lucy's beau, a sheriff played by Cam Gigandet who is duded out head to toe in cowboy gear. (No joke: He wears chaps and a tin star.)

Battles ensue.

High production values and slick editing can't save this picture. Nor does its overbearing soundtrack music, which tries to strong-arm viewers into believing they're watching a pulse-pounding thriller.

In reality, Priest has no pulse at all.

Priest * (out of four stars)

Directed by Scott Charles Stewart. With Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Maggie Q, Cam Gigandet. Distributed by Screen Gems.

Running time: 1 hour, 27 mins

Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, some gore, profanity, slimy vampires)

Playing at: area theaters

Contact staff writer Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or tirdad@phillynews.com.

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