May 18, 2011

Movies: Priest

I am always fascinated by bad SF. There is just something so disarming in it, so innocent in its stupidity, one can't help but love it. I hurry to add that I have never read a single page of the manhwa this movie is supposed to be desecrating, but considering the wailing of its fans, I assume that's probably a good thing.

Priest is actually a very fun ride, but is sadly unbalanced in at least three aspects. But first thing first - in a gory cartoon story during the opening credits, we are told that in the reality of the movie, vampires have always existed. We see humans battling them in different eras, until - in the near future - the Earth is all but uninhabitable as a result of the endless wars. What ended said wars were the Priests - humans with a vague and potentially supernatural (although it's never stated as such in the movie) gift for killing vampires. The Priests were so badass that the Church itself feared them too much and after the surviving vamps were imprisoned in "reservations" and most of humanity enclosed itself in Church-governed dystopian cities, the warrior-monks were disbanded and fell into obscurity.

Now, I am sure you have to be wondering how smart it is to lose track of a super-powerful killing machine in the city you rule and make sure he feels thoroughly outcast and unwelcome, but we'll let that one slide. Soon enough our guy's (Paul Bettany) brother's family is attacked by the not-so-extinct-after-all vampires, led by a ghost from the past (that is, from a one minute long flashback that the movies starts with) in the shape of a very evil Karl Urban - whose role, incidentally, would have been a lot better was it not so ungainly burdened with lines - and he must disobey the Church's orders and go into the wilderness to save his niece. He is joined by heroic young sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet) who is in love with the girl.

Which brings me to the unbalance I mentioned earlier. See, the movie has tremendously good setting. Everything - from the "Blade Runner gone wrong" Church cities, spewing smoke in the sky, to the postapocalyptic cowboy towns and the vampire hives, and even the SF dystopian western coutire clothing - is just made of style. This almost dead world is alive and believable, and it is cool! The vampires themselves are something like a combination between Aliens and rabid dogs, what with the no eyes and lots of saliva thing, but even so, they work great in this setting.

But then comes the script, and it all goes horribly wrong. That the story is stupid is a given. Whoever doesn't expect a stupid story from an overbudgeted b-movie? But Priest goes that extra mile and makes the stupid story pretentious. Everything drips coolness and pathos in that very annoying way of things taking themselves way too seriously. The dialogue is painful to listen to. Every word that comes from the nameless bad guy's mouth for example is so horrendously trite and misdelivered that it literally made me cringe. And sadly, the story just doesn't work. The epic feel that the setting provides gets thoroughly wasted around the middle of the movie, and the epic ending just doesn't feel epic enough.

And then of course, there is the matter of the Screaming Asian Ninja Priest With The Fancy Knife Moves, but we shall speak not of such vile things... *spits on floor*

Paul Bettany adds to the weirdness that is Priest. He is a good actor. Maybe not A-list material, considering his serial killer looks, but he is a better actor than a movie like that deserves, and he delivers a performance that is just a tad too nuanced and thus brings further dissonance to the whole experience.

But this is mostly me picking my nose for something to say. Yes, Priest is a dumb movie and yes, every word that comes out of Karl Urban's mouth makes you feel embarrassed for him, but the setting is awesome, the action is cool (yes, even with the slow-mo!) and in the end who needs plot when you have frothing vampire... ish goodness?


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