Anil Rickly's early screening - 'PRIEST' review
...Paul Bettany vs Karl Urban...a battle we clamor for...does the film deliver?...
After ditching my 4th showing of Thor, it was either Fast 5 or Prom. I chose the latter and ended up in the stead of one other lonely person. Yep...just the two of us for this Disney Film...and it was a fun film...ludicrous at times...but nonetheless, after seeing it with one person besides me in the theater, I needed to wash away this pain with Priest.
Scott Stewart helms the directive drive on this film, and after Legion disappointed me, he managed to have Paul Bettany keep faith in his vision. CBM fans are always insistent on Bettany as a villain, with Lex Luthor frequently named and seemingly a role he may accomplish well, in tandem with Jarvis duties on Marvel's Iron-Man.
Whether that comes to pass remains to be seen, but after a drab performance and a fickle script that lacked fluidity in my humble opinion in Legion, I anticipated something better from Priest as the trailer seemed to offer a nice rolling sci-fi/western thriller. Screen Gems are a production company that has me cynical a lot as I'm not too personally keen on their outputs but as usual, it's an open mind I allow to ponder along the cinema seats. Cory Goodman scripts a film just under 90 mins and this is adapted but not very similar to the Korean comic of the same name. The comic seems very different and much more in-depth into crises of faith and angelic wars with God etc.
That aside, the film follows a priest (Bettany) as he enlists on a mission of dire importance – recovery of a loved one from the clutches of an ever-growing vampire clan, long thought to be extinct. The relationship between humans and vampires, and the subsequent anointing of the warrior-like priests are well done via anecdotal 3-D animation panels, and it’s a plus to see the 3-D actually impress throughout the entire film and add a welcome depth of action and visceral layer to the tone of the film. Then again, I didn’t see Avatar-3D so I may be exaggerating a bit. Nonetheless, the protagonist finds himself alerted to familial woes at the hands of vampires via the young and exuberant Sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet). Gigandet has never impressed me in the lot of films I’ve seen him in and clearly he is there for the teen demographic as he turns another lacklustre performance and fails to impress as ‘sidekick’ to the priest. As the priest disobeys cardinal orders to undertake this mission, it’s quite annoying to hear the church’s motto resonate over and over and over to the priest, and it’s a shame that early appearances by Christopher Plummer and Stephen Moyer, are all shallow and tiresome. Such great actors, yet so little they offer us with the playing time on-screen. The mutiny found in the priest’s rebellious act sees his church excommunicate him and implement an execution squad, not of misfits and ragtags, but of fellow priests that are apparently a retrieval unit. Alliances are switched and trust betrayed, or won depending on your perspective of the film, as the priest finds aid in Hicks as well as the priestess (Maggie Q). They discover a nefarious plot by the vampires to invade and encroach on the safety borders of humanity once again, and set out to ascertain the means to stopping this impending doom. The antagonist they find in Karl Urban’s Black Hat character is one that is empirically a disastrous attempt to craft a villain worthy of screen time. With the team going toe-to-toe to stop a villain that has severe ties to the church, one would expect a mash-up slobberknocker between 2 lead actors that usually hold their own…but instead they offer nothing. Both leads fail to divert any sort of chemistry on-screen to the audience, and even when singular they fail miserably to alleviate the poor dialogue, calamitous pacing and overall weak acting brought forth to the screen. Bettany fails to impress, even on his own, and also offers no chemistry with Maggie nor Gigandet. There is not a single iota of chemistry among any of the cast and it’s a muddled, smoky chimney that begs to be illuminated as a grievance on the part of these usually sound actors’ resume. Bettany proves to be the biggest disappointment as he ratifies the critically panned performance he offered in Legion.
The church and its priests are made akin to the Jedi Order and rebellious Jedi, as well as the Green Lanterns revolting at times against the Guardians of Oa, as we do tend to see hints of Anakin Skywalker, Qui-Gonn Jinn and Hal Jordan at times in the main character, but it’s in flashes and hot only every now and then. Maggie Q also disappoints as there’s no reverb or pizzaz to her waning style and lack of substance on-screen, and she even fails to provide fodder as eye-candy (which would disappoint Nikita fans). The subtle hints to the priesthood recruiting for wars a la Vietnam etc is endearing at times, but in small doses as the frugality of the film doesn’t offer too much harm nor hindrance in overdoing the action sequences. These scenes are the only bright spot in the film as the SFX remains decent. But while proper sequenced action scenes do appease, the dialogue...remains consistently awful. The film swings from heathen to clergy and a bond of distrust builds with the audience, as we never get a properly toned grim villain in Urban. The myopic future paints a deserted, hot and sweaty dystopian canvas with touches of Episcopalian prominence coming abound in the form of a decent setting, dusty environment and overall, a good, dry atmosphere to the film. The aesthetic settings and scenery appeal but it’s clear there’s a lack of applicable skill, control and charisma from the cast and personnel involved. It aches to bash some of my favourite Hollywood faces but the final fight, a supposed climax to the film, is a shoddy scene and any lacks forthcoming gusto. It’s flaccid an ending, and placates no one as the final battle is one of the weakest recently to hit screens. As platonic as I’d like my review to be, the massacre comes at teasing the bigger villain of the picture, yet offering no involvement of this villain directly at the film’s end, and hinting at a sequel we know will never see the light of day. Appearances by Madchen Amick and Brad Douriff offer little comfort or solace as they too fall flat on their face in a script that is definitely better left to being a comic book, as prose under such poor film direction is never a good recipe. Stewart in his director’s chair accumulated all bad ingredients sad to say and throttled a poor excuse for a sci-fi ride.
I can see folks enjoying Resident Evil or Anaconda films a bit more, as Priest falls under the same disappointing category, just it has better SFX and a higher profile cast.
I barely give this film a 5 out of 10…and I’m being mildly generous due to it being a CBM, due to it having a supposedly good, not stellar cast, and also because I tend to give benefits of the doubt to Bettany, Urban and Maggie! Let’s just say that after this horrendous film, these guys, as well as Mr. Stewart...owe us one!!! Note: Eloquent catch-phrases, quotes and one-liners don't make a film!
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