For the past six months or so, every time Matt and I entered a theater, we would roll our eyes and groan when we saw that cross in a circle logo come up.  It meant the Priest trailer again.  We would sit in the quiet of the theater and whisper to each other about how bad it looked or questioning how many horrendous movies that guy from Burlesque planned to show up in.  Priest looked like a bad action film set in a post-apocalyptic future that was trying far too desperately to be cool, a stupid film masquerading as smart made by one of the many disciples of the church of  Zack Snyder.  Glossy and blue tinted, Priest appeared, on its surface, to be the bastard child of 300 and Underworld.  So imagine my surprise that it was actually a bit of fun.

I love me a good western.  I’ve always loved the idea of a reluctant hero pulling his gun and holster out of the wooden box under the stairs and strapping them to his hip, jumping on his rickety old horse and riding out into the unknown, unafraid of death, to do what must be done.  In Priest, the gun is a collection of throwing stars, knives and other various non-combustion weapons, his horse is a supercharged motorcycle and what must be done is saving his damsel in distress niece, Lucy (Lily Collins) from a horde of renegade vampires.

In the post-apocalyptic world of Priest, the warrior clergy are essentially Viatnam veterans.  The once proud soldiers in the church’s army against the vampires have since returned home to find a society that doesn’t need them or want them.  Placed back into “normal” life by a clergy that no longer deems them necessary, the priests are marked with a cross tattoo on their face making it almost impossible to blend back into city life.  Priest (Paul Bettany), our pensive protagonist, wanders through the dark alleyways, going through the motions.  He sulks through the streets avoiding all connections to anyone or anything. His faith in the religious institution is as shattered as his troubled mind as he passes from day to day , his hollow eyes reflecting the sacrifice he made in God’s name.  That is, until Hicks (Cam Gigandet), the small town sheriff from the outpost Priest’s brother lives in, shows up to beg for a little assistance.

Priest and Hicks travel across the wasteland, tracking the bloodsuckers who kidnapped Lucy and fighting the monstrous inhuman vampires and their familiars (humans infected by the vamps to do their Renfield-ian bidding) from the vampire reservations to their hives.  Along the way, they are joined by Priestess (Maggie Q, continuing her ass kicking stint from her show Nikita) who raises the over-the-top stakes by adding another super-soldier and some new physics-bending skills to Priest’s already ludicrous arsenal.  The trio discover that Priest’s ex-bff and fellow man of the cloth who was lost during a mission near the end of the war has returned with a new outlook and a few shiny new super-powers of his own, courtesy of a vampire queen who turned him into the first human/vampire hybrid.  Enter Black Hat (Karl Urban) who couldn’t be any more deliciously villainous if he were twirling a mustache and laughing maniacally.  Black Hat is armed with the best of both worlds (vampire powers, human creativity) and has a plan to return the night stalkers to their rightful place on top of the food chain and has orchestrated everything to draw the priests out of the cities, leaving them as unguarded feeding grounds for his train of hungry friends.

Priest unapologetically steals from so many iconic films that its hard to find a single reference point for the movie.  Sergio Leone, Blade Runner, The Matrix, Mad Max, John Ford and John Woo all influence both the story and the visual style of employed by director Scott Charles Stewart.  Although not at all original and definitely not good, the collage of ideas and styles employed in Priest makes for a fun ride.  The score by veteran Christopher Young rises and falls with abandon.  Its not a good score, but its not trying to be.  Much like the film itself, its only trying to get your blood pumping.  Where that is concerned, its weird old-school over-the-top action horror feel fits perfectly with the green-screen backgrounds, cheesy one-liners and 3D post conversion, which felt more suited for the cornballiness of Priest then it does for a big-budget contender like Thor.

I’m not going to defend Priest as a good film, because it isn’t.  But for those of us who have a soft spot for movies like Tank Girl, Constantine or anything from Sam Raimi‘s early catalogue will find something to enjoy here.  Its nice seeing a film with so few original ideas and so much creative thievery deliver an experience that feels both familiar and new.

RATING:  6/10

~ by Andrew Craig on May 17, 2011.

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