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Friday, June 3, 2011


He can bench press that.

I learned a word today. I think it perfectly captures my feelings of Priest. The word is "desultory"; adj. - lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm. Priest, in effect, is desultory. Loosely based, almost in name only, on a series of Korean graphic novels that found their way to American early in the 2000's, the film takes place on a post-apocalyptic alternate world, sometime in the future, where a church of warrior priests have eradicated an evil race of vampires. The film is directed by Scott Charles Stewart, whom you may remember directed Legion - another movie about men of God fighting the good fight against demons and undead alike. Stewart seems to have stonewalled his own career, essentially making the same movie twice. And he's taught moviegoers a valuable lesson - good trailers don't make good movies. 

More after the cut--

I summarized the plot of the film before the jump, but here's a more extended version, for those who are still interested. A man known only as Priest (Paul Bettany), in almost a derogatory way, the same way you might hear an older man call someone "boy", is a member of the Church - the Church is really a collective of superhuman "priests" and "priestesses" who once thought they had rid the world of vampires. Of course, they haven't, otherwise there wouldn't be a movie.

Priest learns that his niece, Lucy (Lily Collins), has been kidnapped by an old friend-now-nemesis known only as Black Hat (Karl Urban). When he brings his proposal of a mission to go find her to the Church, they refuse his request and tell him he'll be excommunicated if he goes against their wishes. He doesn't care, because he's a cold-hearted hero from the days of B-films, and goes after her anyway. He finds a local sherrif, Hicks (Cam Gigandet), who is madly in love with Priest's niece, and a Priestess (Maggie Q) who is sympathetic to his cause. Together, they take on the vampire/human mix clan that poses a new threat to the Church and the world together. 

In the opening of the film, a sorely misplaced animated sequence explains how everything is the way it is - human beings live in fear of vampires. Not vampires like we've been taught to imagine them by Dracula, True Blood, Twilight, or anything popular. But, rather, vampires that look collectively like Nemesis from Resident Evil. Giant, hunchbacked, mucous covered lumps with sharp teeth. The Church fights a war against them, and Priest and a dear friend, lead the charge. Priest messes up, and his dear friend is dragged into a deep dark hole by the vampires. However, they won the war, and while humans still live in fear, the vampires pretty much live underground now, so they're no worry. Then the live-action part of the movie begins, and it's almost too late to get your money back. The friend of Priest turns out to be Black Hat, and Black Hat kidnapped his niece. So, it's personal - and... a lot like a soap opera. Also, it's a mash-up of other, much better films.

I'm usually always a fan of catching references to films in other films; it's like seeing someone respect their elders. But, Priest goes as far as lifting entire set-pieces to create its movie. It's a little embarrassing, and pretty indicative of Stewart's abilities as a storyteller. Poor. I imagine him to be like that kid at a campfire who has run out of things to say, so he mashes together everyone else's stories. The are visual glimmers of Blade Runner in the cities in which the priests live, there are elements of The Searchers, there are elements of any Indiana Jones/Star Wars-esque serials, and (thanks, Variety, for pointing this out) huge liftings from 1968's Witchfinder General. Stewart has nothing to say. He needs to sit down now. 

After watching this, reeling from the banality of what I had just seen, I went looking for other reviews, trying to find if anyone else had enjoyed it as little as I did. What I found, was something confusing - not many reviewers had seen it. Ebert's review for Priest was actually for a much better (but still terrible) Linus Roache film from 1995, about the trappings of celibacy in the Catholic church, as well as struggles with homosexuality. If you look at Priest (2011) like you should Priest (1995), it posits something extremely intriguing - are vampires supposed to be homosexuals, and are humans a representative of sex? So, maybe Priest is a liberal in a world of conservatives, fighting for the right of free love in a church drowned in thoughts of sin? All in a crazy metaphor? No. That wouldn't even make the film interesting. And, when your movie is so dead in the water, that even thinking about how it died doesn't make it fun, something is terribly wrong. 

I could talk about the music, the tech work, the 3D, the computer generation, the performances, the action sequences, the direction, the editing, the stunt choreography... but, I'd be wasting your time. Remember - desultory. If anyone asks you to sum up the film, that's the word to use. At least they'll learn something.