CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PRIEST (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(The Scene: The interior of a giant, dark cave, full of labyrinth-like tunnels and eerie-looking passageways. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES make their way through the cave. MA is holding a flashlight to illuminate the way.)
MA: Welcome, everybody! We’re here in this vampire hive to witness yet another big battle between vampires and their adversaries—humanity’s heroes—the priest warriors!
(Unseen audience cheers)
LS: Really? Since when do vampires have hives? Are they vampire bees? I thought we were in a beaver tunnel looking for Mel Gibson.
MA: Wrong movie. It’s vampires vs. humans today, because that’s the type of battle you’ll see in the new 3D vampire vs. human movie PRIEST (2011). Wait a minute. I hear something.
LS: That’s my stomach. I wonder if this place has a snack bar.
MA: No. I hear footsteps.
(A horde of batty-looking vampires emerge from the darkness)
LS: Any of you fellas know where I can find a snack bar?
(Vampires hiss and close in on MA & LS)
MA: I think we’re the snack bar.
LS: That’s not going to help me any.
MA: You think?
(A PRIEST suddenly enters the scene, and with a few nifty slow motion moves, quickly and neatly disposes of all the vampires.)
MA: That’s it? That’s the battle?
LS: And that’s pretty much the movie. Can we go home now?
PRIEST: You two men—are movie reviewers.
MA (rolls eyes): Yep, that’s the kind of obvious thought-provoking dialogue you’ll hear in the new movie PRIEST. (To Priest) I hear there’s some more vampires down that passageway building a snack bar. You should investigate.
PRIEST: Yes, I should investigate. (Exits)
LS: And we should do this review. I’m hungry, and those vampire body parts strewn all over the place are starting to look mighty appetizing.
MA: Okay. I’ll start this one.
PRIEST takes place in an alternate world where vampires and humans have battled for centuries, but the humans have finally won the battle because of their secret weapon: warrior priests. The few vampires left have been banished to live on reservations, and the humans now live in futuristic cities that reminded me a lot of the cities Harrison Ford traipsed through in BLADE RUNNER (1982).
LS: How dare you mention a great film like BLADE RUNNER in comparison to this dreck!
MA: That’s what happens when you’re in a theater watching a lousy movie—you daydream about better movies.
LS: Oh, you forgot to mention that the Vatican controls all the cities with an iron fist. Wow, who knew the Catholic Church would eventually take over? And everyone is so docile and compliant.
MA: Outside these cities, the world looks like the old west, as the towns and the people look like they just left the set of TRUE GRIT. A strange combination.
LS: A lame combination, you mean.
MA: Sure, and why stop there? Let’s call it what it really was: a stupid combination. I mean, what’s up with mixing futuristic cities with the old west? It makes no sense.
LS: Which I guess means you should love the upcoming COWBOYS VS. ALIENS.
MA: In this movie, priests are vampire hunters. They even have crosses tattooed on their faces so you know who they are. One of them (Paul Bettany)—the most famous of the priest-vampire hunters, of course—is drawn back into the conflict when his brother’s family is attacked at an outpost in the wasteland, and his niece is kidnapped by vampires. In order to search for his niece, The Priest has to go against the church’s wishes, because the Monsignor (Christopher Plummer) tells him that there’s no more vampire problem, and if he goes against his church’s wishes, he’ll be excommunicated. The Priest thinks about this long and hard for about two seconds, and decides he’s going after his niece.
LS: This entire set-up is moronic. The church ignores any signs that the vampires are making a comeback, and claims it’s just a superstition. Why? Because they want to maintain their iron grip on the populace and make the people think they are safe. But even among each other they perpetuate the lies? You would think they would rise up against any possible threat to their power. If vampires are back, you’d think they would want to stamp them out–not deny their existence. I mean – there was a war with them in the past, there are even some left on the reservations as a reminder – it’s not like there’s no proof of their existence! This isn’t the Boogie Man here; it’s a proven danger. This plot point just seemed incredibly stupid to me.
MA: I agree. You’d think they’d want to find out if the vampires were on the prowl again. It’s never clearly explained why the church is so against admitting that vampires are back. It just gives Christopher Plummer a chance to be a grumpy old man and spout out authoritative hogwash about disobeying the church’s wishes.
There’s also this recurring line “If you go against the church, you go against God,” which I guess is supposed to be this deep Orwellian warning, but really, if you think about it, if you belong to a church, and you believe in that church’s teachings, isn’t that just an obvious statement? It’s like saying if you disobey the 10 Commandments, you disobey God. Well, yeah!
MA: Anyway, back to the plot. The priest is joined by a young sheriff, Hicks (Cam Gigandet), who happens to be in love with the priest’s niece. Small world. They go off in search of the vampires in order to rescue the niece. It’s a plot that made me wish I was watching the classic John Wayne western, THE SEARCHERS (1956) instead.
They’re also joined by a female vampire priest, and their search eventually leads them to the main vampire baddie in this one, a slick dude in a black cowboy hat aptly named Black Hat (Karl Urban).
LS: The priestess is played by Maggie Q. She’s one of a group of fellow priests that the Vatican sends to kill Paul Bettany’s character for heresy, but she decides to join forces with him instead. Man, is this storyline stupid. Instead of sending more priests out to kill Bettany, wouldn’t it make more sense to have them investigate whether the vampire threat is real or not?
MA: That would make too much sense.
And that’s the plot. In a movie like this, the ending is never in doubt. This movie is called PRIEST. Do you really think the priest from the main title is going to fail?
LS (with mouth full): Are you asking me?
MA: No, I’m asking our audience—what are you eating? (Sees that LS is chomping on a severed vampire arm) Put that down! You don’t know where that hand’s been!
LS (pulls out a bottle of Stubbs BBQ sauce): Awww, you’re no fun. I had to eat something. And you’re using your arm. Go on with the review.
MA: PRIEST could have been a good “bad” movie. When it started, I had an open mind, and tried as best as I could to be into it, and the filmmakers tried as best as they could to see that that didn’t happen. The plot is downright silly, but I would have looked past this had the film been made better.
The worst part is there is absolutely no character development. We don’t get to know these folks at all, and as a result we don’t care for them. Cory Goodman wrote the screenplay based on the graphic novel series by Min-Woo Hyung, and it’s about as deep as a paper cut.
LS: You’re giving the film too much credit. I’ve had some pretty deep paper cuts.
MA: Paul Bettany as the Priest is about as exciting as a piece of wood. He’s boring. We saw Bettany as the angel Michael in LEGION (2009) and he was slightly better in that, but not much.
LS: Didn’t he play the same exact role as an enforcer for the church in THE DA VINCI CODE (2006)? He sure has a thing for playing avenging clergymen. I actually think Bettany can be good when given a decent role. He was good in the British gangster film GANGSTER NO. 1 (2000) and the Lars Von Trier movie DOGVILLE (2003), and I also liked him in the nautical epic MASTER AND COMMANDER (2003), but he hasn’t impressed me at all in action films like this. He needs to go back to serious acting.
MA: Karl Urban looks cool as the villainous Black Hat, but he’s way underdeveloped. He has a personal history with the Priest, and so his motives for kidnapping the niece are personal, but we know so little about this history. Black Hat used to be a priest, I think. Were they friends? Brothers? Rivals? Your guess is as good as mine since the writer of this piece didn’t bother to show us.
LS: I thought Urban was the best thing in the movie, but you’re right, he has very little to do. His Black Hat character was kinda cool, but had no substance. He’s been in a lot of movies we’ve seen recently, and I almost always enjoy his performances. He’s even slated to play JUDGE DREDD in the upcoming reboot of that franchise. I sure hope it’s better than this movie.
MA: Cam Gigandet as Sheriff Hicks is about as fleshed out as a toothpick. Gigandet looked familiar, and it’s no surprise, since he’s shown up in a number of movies we’ve reviewed the past few years. He was in PANDORUM (2009), THE UNBORN (2009), and, most recently, THE ROOMATE (2011).
Brad Dourif, an actor I enjoy watching, is wasted in an all too brief stint as an exceedingly cliché Salesman. You know the character, that guy who’s trying to bamboozle the local townspeople by selling them phony remedies? How many times has this scene been replayed in the movies?
LS: Brad Dourif is way too good for crap like this.
MA: And Christopher Plummer is relegated to looking constipated and stating authoritative lines that a grumpy old monsignor would say.
And the look of PRIEST isn’t anything to brag about either. I enjoyed the post-apocalyptic visuals in SUCKER PUNCH (2011) much better than anything I saw here in PRIEST. I did like the futuristic city, but the western scenes were unimaginative, and the scenes in the vampire hive were dark and looked like a million other dark cave scenes I’ve seen before.
PRIEST also didn’t have any memorable action scenes. Did you like any of the battles? (nudges LS) This time I am talking to you.
LS: Battles? Oh yeah, there were some of those in here, huh? I wasn’t much impressed by them either. There’s one where Black Hat and the Priest fight on a train that’s almost good. But not quite. Yeah, the battles kind of suck.
MA: I wasn’t impressed, either. And I wasn’t impressed by Scott Charles Stewart’s direction at all. Stewart also directed LEGION (2009), a film I enjoyed more than PRIEST.
LS: I’m starting to see a pattern here. Stewart directed both LEGION and PRIEST. Paul Bettany starred in both of them. And both were over-sold at the movie theaters. By the time the actual movies came out, I was already sick of them because of the trailers—I think I saw the PRIEST trailer like 25 times before the movie was released! Neither one redeemed itself in the actual viewing—both were kind of lame—and you’ve already seen some of the best scenes in the trailers beforehand several times. So why bother?
MA: The vampires were also a disappointment. They looked like rejects from PAN’S LABRYNTH (2006). They weren’t scary looking at all. I liked the little we saw of Black Hat. He was cool-looking, and I thought Karl Urban— who we saw as Dr. McCoy in STAR TREK (2009) — did a good job making him something of a sly menace, but we know so little about him, and he actually does so little in this movie, that he’s far from a decent villain. He certainly could have been one.
LS: The vampires are my number one problem with this movie. They’re lame, CGI creatures who can move very fast, but they don’t look realistic at all. They’re these giant eyeless things with lots of teeth. Nothing like vampires we’re used to. I guess this is supposed to be something new and original – but it’s not. It’s just kind of dumb.
So the vampires these people have been fighting for ages are definitely non-human monsters. And then, it’s revealed that Black Hat is their big secret weapon against mankind. And what makes him special? He’s the first human vampire! I’m not sure if this is a spoiler, but if it is, it sure is a friggin stupid one. God, is this world slow on the uptake. We’ve had human vampires in movies for over a century and it took them this long to come up with them? What a sorry-ass alternate world. I hate CGI monsters and I hate dumb alternate worlds.
MA: Then there’s the whole 3D fiasco. Yep, PRIEST was in 3D, yet another movie where the 3D failed to make a difference. Now, I can understand why you’d want to make this one in 3D, since it takes place in an alternate word, and so there’s a lot of room for creative landscapes and cool 3D imagery, but guess what? The filmmakers didn’t exploit this at all! There is hardly anything impressive visually about this movie, and the 3D effects flat-out fail to impress. It actually kind of amazed me how lackluster the 3D effects were in PRIEST, and compared to the 3D effects we just saw last week in THOR, THOR was much better, but even those I wasn’t crazy about.
LS: I wasn’t that impressed with the use of 3D in THOR, either, but that movie was a masterpiece compared to PRIEST. Man, did I hate this movie! I actually almost nodded off a few times, it was so predictable and dumb. But I made sure to stay awake for the sake of our readers. And the 3D was just adding insult to injury. I had to pay an extra five bucks for pathetic 3D effects that didn’t improve this movie one iota.
MA: Too much 3D! Knock it off already! Or make it better. The theaters are certainly charging enough for these movies, so there’s no excuse for these films not looking better.
And lastly, PRIEST is not scary, which is a disappointment, since this is a movie about vampires. The scariest part about PRIEST is one of the final lines of the movie, where Christopher Plummer’s Monsignor yells at the Priest, saying the vampire war is over, and the Priest replies, “It’s not over. It’s just beginning.” And you know what that means: PRIEST 2. Now that’s scary.
LS: I can only hope this one does horribly at the box office. That’s the only thing that can protect us from the horror that is PRIEST 2.
MA: I give PRIEST one and a half knives.
LS: As usual, you’re more generous than the movie deserves. I give it half a knife. This thing is a dog.
MA: Yeah, I almost gave it a lower rating, but I did like Karl Urban as Black Hat, and unlike you, I didn’t hate the movie. I just thought it was lame.
(PRIEST returns from the catacombs)
MA: Did you find any more vampires?
PRIEST: No. Did you like the movie?
LS: No, we hated it. Now show us how to get out of here. We’re done talking about PRIEST.
PRIEST: You can stay here. And rot.
MA: You know, if you had talked this tough in the movie, we might have liked it better.
PRIEST: Bite me.
(PRIEST flips them off and then disappears into the darkness)
MA: Now, what? How are we going to get out of here?
(Suddenly a giant neon sign flickers and comes to life. It’s a gigantic hand pointing with the words “WAY OUT” above it).
MA: There’s something to be said for movies that constantly state the obvious.
LS: We are obviously outta here.
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives PRIEST - 1 and a half knives
LL Soares gives PRIEST – half a knife