May 14, 2011

PRIEST: Pray For Us

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Not Even For Free; The 3D Must Stand For “Dull Deadly Dud”
If you squint at the post-apocalyptic desert wasteland settings of PRIEST, I swear you can see the camera crews from The Book of Eli, Jonah Hex, Resident Evil and Ultraviolet trying to duck out of frame.  At this point, I don’t think any self-respecting vampire would even consider stalking those sands; they may rip human heads off their throats and drink blood, but they’ve got some pride.  
Priest manages to make Legion, which was last year’s religio-horror mash-up starring Paul Bettany and directed by Scott Stewart, look like a modern classic.  What, short of vampiric possession, could have made Bettany–a skilled actor in films like A Beautiful Mind and Master and Commander, not to mention the upcoming Margin Call–want to work twice in two years with Scott Stewart?  Are there embarrassing photos of Bettany that Stewart is threatening to show Jennifer Connelly?  Is Stewart holding one or more of their children hostage?  It’s a mystery more fascinating than anything in either movie.

Priest, for those who insist on knowing about it, is yet another terrible movie based on graphic novels, a genre quickly becoming the bane of coherent filmmaking.  In the backstory we’re given via some opening animation, vampires have been fighting humans over the centuries, and were only able to be killed or driven out into that post-apocalyptic desert by specially gifted fighters who are ascetic, chaste “priests” abducted by the all-powerful church from their normal lives as soon as their powers are in evidence, and tattooed with giant crosses on their faces.  Once the vampires were disposed of, the church abandoned the priests. But now the vampires are back, even if the pompous Head Priest (Christopher Plummer) won’t admit it, and they’ve killed Bettany’s brother and kidnapped his niece (Lily Collins, who’ll soon be Snow White in the movie competing with Kristen Stewart’s version).  Bettany–who has no name in the movie other than “Priest”–sets off with the niece’s boyfriend (Cam Gigandet) and eventually a Priestess (Maggie Q) to get the girl back or kill her if she’s already been “infected” by the vampires (shades–very very pathetic shades–of The Searchers).  
Stewart and screenwriter Cory Goodman have no idea how to make this even guilty fun, and the picture lurches through its 87 minutes without the budget for decent CG vampires or a single original idea.  Bettany is glum, as well he should be, and only Karl Urban, as (spoiler alert!) Bettany’s former colleague who’s now the leader of the vampires, seems to be enjoying himself.  The picture has an advanced case of the dark, bleached-out ugliness we’ve become used to in 3D movies that aren’t very carefully transferred, so even though Don Burgess (Spiderman, Cast Away) is behind the camera it doesn’t help, and the music by Christopher Young is of the electronic quiet-then-SCREECH style endemic to modern horror movies.  (It is, by the way, quite graphically violent for its PG-13 rating.)
It’s anyone’s guess why Screen Gems, usually a canny studio (the lower-budget subsidiary of Sony), would release this cheap, unexciting thing just as the summer’s blockbuster action movies are starting to arrive, but that’s their accountants’ problem.  Priest deserves to be buried out in that desert, with only its fellow post-apocalyptic fantasies for company.

(PRIEST – Screen Gems/Sony – 87 minutes – PG 13 – Director:  Scott Stewart – Script:  Cory Goodman – Cast:  Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins – Wide Release)

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."