That’s what churches are for… get in a man’s way (especially when he needs to kill a horde of vampires).
Humans and vampires have warred with one another throughout time, and the Earth has all but been destroyed in the crossfire. Humankind might have perished if not for the Priests, preternatural warriors backed by the Church who were able to turn the tide and force a truce with the vampire hordes. After the threat ended, the Priests were retired while the Church leveraged their influence to create a series of industrial city-states where its citizens toil away in the name of God. On the frontier and far from the protection of the Church, an apparent vampire attack has rallied one of the retired Priests (Paul Bettany) into action, an act forbidden by the Church who denies that any vampire still threatens humankind.
Once again, Paul Bettany is playing (wait for it) a priest. Not just any priest, mind you, but one who inexplicably gained, trained, or otherwise was granted Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fighting skills and specifically as a vampire slayer. For all the interesting imagery and characters, the film version of Priest (based yet another comic series) has been re-written for mainstream audiences with things borrowed from too many other recognizable sources. This is the same problem that Nic Cage’s film Knowing suffered from; it wasn’t that the film was bad, it was just full of too many things we had all seen before.
Playing the vengeful, bad-ass title character suits Bettany fine (when he’s not doing voice-over work as Tony Stark’s computer, Jarvis). Throw in Maggie Q as a fellow vampire slayer and Karl Urban as the villainous Black Hat and you know you’ve got a fight on your hands. The three of them dominate the film’s running time, but Urban easily makes the most of his part and wallows in it. Christopher Plummer phones in his usual “do as I say and not as I do” high official while Brad Dourif finds another unsavory character to play. With such a solid cast and an interesting premise, why did no one notice that each money shot looked borrowed or outright stolen for similar films?
Judge Dread industrial megacity set in a bleak future? Check. Inexplicably giant statues in a desert wasteland marking the forbidden territory? Check. Matrix wire-fu combat and slow-motion sequences? Check and check. Even the Old West frontier-inspired town with the futuristic tech felt like outtakes from Joss Whedon’s “Firefly.” Yet, for all of this familiarity, the film still manages to provide a fun time and has unapologetic aspirations toward a sequel or trilogy. At the time of this writing, the film wasn’t faring too well in theaters, likely in no small part to showcasing the familiar sequences rather than hint at some of the originality being offered. No worries; Bettany will certainly find work again soon enough (as a priest).
(a two and a half skull out of four)