Priest. Directed by Scott Charles Steward & Written by Corey Goodman.
Preconceptions: Since leaving the snow-glare drenched valleys of my own post-apocalyptic wasteland, Mother Canada, the thing I miss most (besides having a sled team of yappy little dogs) is my regular movie nights with the gang (and planning them using inappropriate media, like other people's podcasts). When deciding to fund an expedition back to my homeland, movie choice is extremely important. Eventually, Priest was decided on (I started using passive voice here, to avoid blaming any one person, but I've changed my mind: I blame Doomwench). I know that a futuristic, dystopian setting, filled with blood thirsty creatures sounds a little on the cliche side (and I love that I live in a world where the technology exists to make that true), but we're big suckers (ha-ha) for vampires as monsters. Not to mention, Karl Urban is a big draw.
General Review: Before the claws come out, a quick plot summary (well, I say plot). We're in a dark and gritty spaghetti western future, ruled by the oppressive power of the Church. A plague of slavering semi-intelligent vampires wiped out a whole lot of humanity until a group of holy warriors got face tattoos and were sent off to smite (this is all breezed through in an opening comic-chic credit sequence, with a lame voice over). A few years later, most of the vampires are dead and the Church disbands these Priests the better to oppress the frightened populace. Our hero (called Priest, because it won't be confusing, so quit asking) hears that his family has been overrun with vampires and goes on a quest to find out what's what.
While I often deal in hyperbole in this blog, I do not lightly say something is worse than Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter. Priest was, without question, worse. What characterized this movie most was utterly shameless waste. We're presented with sweeping cityscapes (alright, which are highly cribbed from Bladerunner) and vast cowboy-friendly plains. The creature design was yawn-worthy but there were tons of them bouncing around. In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw the same grey slobbering monster in Thor a few weeks back...and (as Doomwench has pointed out) in Doom (another flawed but less tedious Karl Urban movie). Finally, the cast couldn't have been cheap, featuring Karl Urban (all Roland-ed out), Paul Bettany and Christopher Plumber. This movie cost about 60 million dollars to make, one quarter the budget of Avatar (blue people, not white people)*. But all the money, talent and spectacle couldn't make up for the uninspired, derivative drivel that I guess could be described as a script.
Oh sure, there were a lot of directorial choices that were dull and copy and pasted from other movies (movies that might have been hip 10, 20 years ago, I mean Priest was making use of bullet time and escaping explosions by running in front of them), but the occasional hackiness in directing was nothing compared to the writing. While no one actually said it was "Quiet, too quiet" or screamed "My baby!" we were subjected to every bit of terrible dialogue up to those. I was also waiting for "Stay frosty" but was only rewarded with "Stay sharp." It was almost worse when the flick tried to get a bit more creative with the writing. While looking over a deserted city, full of tumble-down skyscrapers, Cam Gigandet, our young scrappy side kick, tries to describe the feelings caused by the devastation. What he manages is: "thinking about it makes my eyes hurt." Yes, Priest, I enjoyed a very similar 90 minute experience. But the fun didn't stop there. Karl Urban goes on to describe himself as the "only human vampire." What? No, seriously, what?! You're going to have to try a little harder than that, and this is from the woman who clapped her hands and laughed at the vampire-Pomeranians in the unfortunate Blade 3.
Really, what turned this movie from bad to unbearable was how stone cold serious it took itself. This was a movie about a pseudo-western, vampire hunting priest (with kung-fu undertones) that wanted us to buy every moment of it without any doubt. Priest lacked even the tiniest modicum of self awareness. If it had been a goofy romp through some silly ideas, I would have skipped through the tulips with it, but no, it wanted me to watch it with the same grim awe that I saved for my first viewing of Apocalypse Now. Goodman and Steward drained every bit of life out of a stupid, but possibly fun ideas (who are the real vampires, am I right?).
To momentarily remove the screws from Goodman's thumbs, lets talk about the acting. Oh, I suppose the performances were mediocre. The seasoned talent gave reasonable performances utterly lacking in spark and as for the new meat, I didn't care for Cam Gigandet's dullard act and Lily Collins wasn't believable as a a girl with spirit (lets all roll our eyes and chorus: "we all like a girl with spirit").
While racking my brain for anything positive to say about Priest, I came up with two things. Thing One: Karl Urban remains very handsome and I look forward to the new Star Trek movie. Thing Two: Stephen Moyer (from the deliciously trashy True Blood) was a nice bit of stunt casting, playing someone who wasn't a vampire. Seriously folks, that's it. Day dreaming about the next Star Trek movie was the highlight of this experience.
It may shock you to learn I don't recommend Priest. While it's plenty bad enough to be fun, it's just the same kind of bad you've seen a thousand times before. Sure it's all lumped into a big pile, but that doesn't add any new terrible elements to dissect and enjoy with a group of friends. If you haven't seen any movies in the last quarter century and are looking to catch up on tired trends, I can endorse Priest. For everyone else, maybe Death Trance instead.
*According to my investigative review research: quickly looking it up online, without checking any other source.
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