From Darwin to the Archangel Michael, Paul Bettany can rock (and frock) any role. As the eponymous Priest, the pale skinned, mild-mannered British actor plays a rough-hewn 'old Westerns' style strong and silent hero who, Searchers-like (or for those whose cinematic vocab doesn’t stretch that far back, I’ll ref the 2010 True Grit remake), is on a rescue mission to retrieve a pilfered young lady.
In the case of this retro-fit 3D comic book based horror Western, the hero's horse is a motorcycle, the prairie is a dystopian wasteland, and the damsel in distress is 18-year old Lucy (Lily Collins) kidnapped by soulless, eyeless vampires. The ringleader is Black Hat, the very first human hybrid of their kind and he's played with gory gusto by Karl Urban who, if he'd had one, would have been twirling his mustache throughout the high-stakes hellish highjinks. The Priest's sidekicks include trusted ally Priestess (Maggie Q) and new Sheriff in town Hicks (Cam Gigandet).
In this world, Priests are akin to Vietnam veterans. They were once warriors, used to fight a surge of vampires, but after 'coming home' they were outcasts in a society who has no use for them anymore. Marked by distinctive facial tattoos, it's not like they can blend in — so they're forced to live in isolation, scraping by on menial jobs and handouts. But once Hicks, Priest and Priestess join forces, the tales kicks into high gear with continuing collective of opponents to fight and treacherous territories to traverse.
Priest 3D begs, borrows and steals from so many iconic cinematic references— you'll notice the aforementioned Glenn Ford influence, some Sergio Leone, John Woo, lots of Mad Max, The Descent, and The Matrix, too —all thrown together without any singular style. Scott Charles Stewart is a director who knows all the right stuff, but unlike other helmers prone to homage (Quentin Tarantino, Todd Haynes), this fellow doesn’t have his own spin. And as such, Priest 3D isn't its own movie. It's an assembly line of moments. It's not altogether bad while it's playing, but is forgotten the moment the end-credits start to roll.
The cinematography, in spite of the retro-fit 3D element, isn't bad. The CGI is pretty good, and the score is overwhelming, as might be expected.
Fortunately, most of the acting is a saving grace. Bettany, who seems unusually drawn to playing religion-tinged characters (The Da Vinci Code, Creation, and Legion to name a few), is really quite good as the strong silent type. Stephen Moyer (Vampire Bill from True Blood) is excellent in a small role (he also shone in an otherwise pretty bad little indie, Open House… he deserves a big role in a great film). Maggie Q and Lily Collins do a lot with a little, and Urban dives into his badness with bloody relish. Brad Dourif has a micro role, but chews as much of the scenery as humanly possible (and what lovely scenery it is — set design, particularly in the train cars — is lush and layered). The only disappointment, and it pains me to say so since I am a fan, is Gigandet. The actor seems at loose ends most of the time, not even able to maintain a quasi-Western accent. He's also saddled with the few goofy one-liners, and basically has to take the brunt of being the odd man out in an otherwise tight cast.
While I hardly hold Priest 3D sacred, I'm not throwing holy water on it and casting it out, either. It's fine, as long as you're fine with adequate horror actioners.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson