Priest (**½)

An action-horror hybrid that’s not nearly as bad as it could have been (but still far too clichéd to be anything too worthwhile), Priest saves itself from being a complete failure by having a nice style and sense of atmosphere to it.  That being said, even Paul Bettany’s committed performance doesn’t elevate the material from at times being borderline laughable.  I give director Scott Charles Stewart credit for saving the material from the depths it could have sank to (and for improving on his last film with Bettany, the far worse Legion).  The film is passable entertainment, but the aforementioned clichéd nature of the script shoots it in the foot.  It’s the very definition of a middle of the road action movie.  If you keep your brain off, it’s a bit of fun, but once you put any thought into the events, it all falls apart in a big way.

An adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, the thin plot concerns the age old battle between humans and vampires.  Here the bloodsuckers are much more animal like and beastly, a far cry from what we usually see.  These are absolute monsters, and they had humanity on the ropes until the church stepped in and created an enforcement team known as the Priests.  They’re the best warriors out there, and they pretty much saved the world.  Thinking the war was over, the church became the supreme ruling power, sealed off the cities, and ordered the Priests to stop fighting.  The world now is big industrial cities, with wastelands surrounding it, inhabited by Old West style folks.  When a family is destroyed and a young girl kidnapped, one Priest (Bettany) asks to go looking for her.  He’s refused, but with the help of a sheriff of that area (Cam Gigandet), he defies the orders of the head Monseigneur (Christopher Plummer) and goes looking for her.  What he finds isn’t just vampires, but a former Priest (Karl Urban) now a hybrid evildoer and looking to take over the world.  No points for originality…

Paul Bettany isn’t a bad action lead, and he’s definitely all in here, but the script gives him absolutely nothing to do.  He just kicks ass and acts dour.  He sells it as best he can, but it’s a losing fight.  He doesn’t leave much of an impression, but then again, no one else does either.  Gigandet is the hotshot sidekick; Plummer chews the scenery as the power hungry ruler, and so does Urban, as a matter of fact.  They all do their jobs, but they all could have been given more to work with.  The same can be said of Maggie Q as a former teammate of Bettany’s, Lily Collin’s as the kidnapped girl, and Stephen Moyer as the brother of the Priest.  They all are doing their damnedest, but the nature of the film prevents them from being especially effective.

As previously mentioned, director Stewart does a decent job here, especially with the atmosphere and action.  The film looks almost like something that takes place in the Blade Runner universe, but with its own distinct style.  The incorporation of religion as a ruling force is done in a less than subtle way, but without being bothersome.  Sadly, the script lets him down too.  Scribe Cory Goodman hasn’t an original moment in this film, and the clichés build up until it gets to be too much, and then he keeps going.  There’s a good movie here somewhere, but the screenplay is unable to make it work.

Priest is better than I expected it to be, but it never manages to be anything more than slightly above average.  Aside from being chock full of clichés and never able to find its own identity, there are far worse things out there these days.  As action films go, this one has a decent horror flavor to it and can sufficiently entertain if you lower your expectations.  Don’t expect much, and you might just be satisfied by this.