Priest (2011)

Rating: **
Review Date: 5/30/11
Cast: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Maggie Q, Cam Gigandet, Christopher Plummer

Based on a Korean comic book, this film takes place in a futuristic post-apocalyptic world with Old West sensibilities, vampires, and the overbearing machinations of the Catholic church. Humans and vampires had been at war with each other for centuries, until the church created an elite group of holy warriors known as priests. Their combat proficiency turned the tide of battle and brought an end to the vampire menace. The vampires that remained were rounded up and placed in guarded reservations, while the majority of humankind lived in their own walled prisons under the dictatorship of the church. After the war, the priests were disbanded, dishonored, and forced to hide in a society that no longer needed their talents. When a vampire attack led by a sinister Karl Urban gets Paul Bettany's attention, he defies the orders of the church and heads out to avenge the attack. Naturally, the church reinstates a former group of priests (including a delightful Maggie Q) and sends them after Bettany to punish his transgression.

If nothing else, the film is pretty to look at and the post-apocalyptic wastelands are wonderful to behold. Unfortunately, that's about the only nice thing I can say about it. The acting is terrible and the cringe-worthy dialog is even worse. Paul Bettany doesn't have enough charisma to carry the film as its lead, and I never got the impression that he was as much of a bad-ass as the film was trying to portray him as. Oddly, it's his moments of weakness and shame that stand out in the film. Sexy Karl Urban is on hand as Bettany's nemesis, but he's way too over-the-top to take seriously. Sadly, he fits nicely into the psychotic mold of a megalomaniac comic book villain. "Look at me! I'm the bad guy because I'm mean and crazy!" Ugh. Cam Gigandet's delivery is so awful that it makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. Not surprisingly, it's Maggie Q who steals the show as a conflicted priest at war with her forbidden feelings for Bettany. Her restrained emotional struggle is heartfelt and tangible, and she channels her repressed sexuality into fearsome physical rage. There's nothing like tearing apart a group of vampires to let off some sexual frustration. Christopher Plummer has a throw away role as the sinister leader of the church, but he embodies the hypocrisy and villainy of religion well.

The visual effects are decent enough, and the monsters are all computer generated. As such, they tend to lack a sense of mass, but they interact with the environment pretty well. Unfortunately, the fight scenes are terrible and the wire work is embarrassingly poor. Apart from the atrocious dialog, that betrays the film's budget more than anything else. Overall, "Priest" is loud, stupid, and pretty to look at, and while it's not particularly memorable, its no-nonsense approach makes it a decent way to kill a couple of hours.