Thursday, May 19, 2011

'Priest' is all bark no bite

“Priest,” the sci-fi, western vampire movie, quite literally isn't much of a movie with a running time that clocks in at 78 minutes minus the closing credits. This turns out to be a blessing as even that feels too long.
This is the kind of film that spends so much time on looking cool that the filmmakers forget about such things as character development and getting performances out of the actors that aren't so wooden you could start a fire with them.
Based on a Korean comic, “Priest” is all style and no substance. The premise is that in the future beastly vampires have over-run the planet, but, thanks to a special order of priests with exceptional vampire killing skills, their attacks were quelled. What remains of humanity lives in a walled-off city led by a Big Brother-esque monsignor (Christopher Plummer).
Having done their duty these priests are no longer needed, but one of them (Paul Bettany) goes rogue after hearing of a vampire attack on his brother (Stephen Moyer) that resulted in the kidnapping of his niece (Lily Collins). When Bettany is joined by a small town sheriff (Cam Gigandet) in the pursuit of the girl, the plot becomes a pale knock off of “The Searchers.” A fellow former priest (Maggie Q) sent to bring Bettany back also joins the cause.
Bettany is a talented, charming actor who is wasting his talent on this kind of schlock. The wit he brought to his roles in movies such as “A Knight's Tale,” “A Beautiful Mind” and “Master and Commander” is nowhere to be seen. Granted his character is supposed to be stoic, but there's no weight to the performance. He's merely dry, stiff and uninteresting.
This is Bettany's second time working with director Scott Charles Stewart following 2009's “Legion,” so he clearly enjoys working with him and it must be fun to make these stylized action scenes, but the fun rarely translates onto the screen.
Bettany gets no help from Gigandet, who simply can't act. He poses, he preens and brings the same frozen facial expression to every emotion. Had his performance been stronger maybe Bettany would've had something to play off of.
The only actor that truly registers is Karl Urban as the villain of the piece. He is the kind of seductive, charismatic, funny, confident villain that audiences love to hate. He has the film's best lines and moments, but he also, unfortunately, has very little screen time and isn't enough to save the film.
There are some nice touches. Bettany's priest uses crosses that become ninja stars while battling vampires, which is, admittedly, a cool visual. There is a brief animated prologue that is better and more interesting than the film itself.
There's an interesting premise here, essentially a western with vampires, but the execution is poor. Isolated moments hold interest, but without well developed characters we simply don't care. With another 20-30 minutes to actual create characters instead of cardboard cutouts, this could've been a good a movie. As is, it is just a missed opportunity.

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