I am a Karl Urban fan. I first started watch him back on Xena some 13+ years ago. I went to my first ever fan convention so I could hear him talk. He was hysterical, warm and gracious and I've been hooked on him ever since. Movies like the 2009 Star Trek Reboot (He's Dr. McCoy) proved to the larger world just how good of an actor he is, but real fans of his know one very true fact: he loves making shit movies. Oh, he's not trying to make bad movies, but his love of sci-fi and fantasy and comics leads him to make some rather dubious choices sometimes. Doom? Anybody? Or what about Pathfinder? (I picked up that last one for $2.98 after a sale and a few bucks on a gift card and that was still too expensive). If you're a fan of his, you have to embrace the fact that you're going to see some bad films.
So when I saw the trailer come out for Priest, I immediately threw out all the things I looked for in a good film and settled in to see something cheesy.
Genre: Comic-Book (Manhwa - Korean comics, actually), Action - Adventure, Horror, Western
PRIEST, a western-fused post-apocalyptic thriller, is set in an alternate world -- one ravaged by centuries of war between man and vampires. The story revolves around a legendary Warrior Priest (Paul Bettany) from the last Vampire War who now lives in obscurity among the other downtrodden human inhabitants in walled-in dystopian cities ruled by the Church. When his niece (Lily Collins) is abducted by a murderous pack of vampires, Priest breaks his sacred vows to venture out on an obsessive quest to find her before they turn her into one of them. He is joined on his crusade by his niece's boyfriend (Cam Gigandet), a trigger-fingered young wasteland sheriff, and a former Warrior Priestess (Maggie Q) who possesses otherworldly fighting skills. -- (C) Sony
[For the record, Karl Urban plays Black Hat - the human face of the vampires and Stephen Moyer of True Blood fame plays Owen, Priest's brother]
By now you've probably seen the reviews: that it's loud, that it's derivative, that it's full of bad writing and cliches: totally, utterly, completely true. Hell, the line "It's a trap!" is the literal second line of the movie and my other favorite gem was "If you're not committing sin, you're not having fun." The special effects are so-so at best; some of the scenes look like utter CGI and during a crucial moments you're pulled out of it by the size of explosion in comparison to the amount of explosives that they're shown to have on hand. The vampires themselves (which in this universe aren't human at all, with the exception of Black Hat, but he's a special case) look like rejects from Alien and the music is generic.
And yet, the movie decidedly isn't a total loss: there's some interesting ideas in there: I love the notion of a dystopian society ruled by an autocratic Catholic Church - there's a great scene where Priest goes to confession and you can tell that it's a computer having the confessor (in this case the Monsignor that you see telling Priest if he goes hunting he'll be ex-communicated) cite out whatever it feels like is appropriate for the situation, you can see it there calculating what it will say based on what has been input -and another scene where everyone stops in their tracks to make the sign of the cross at a predetermined time when a signal lit up and the phrase "To betray the Church is to betray God." is heard often- of course, nothing particularly interesting is done with this premise, per se, but it's still a neat set up.
Really though, if you're going to watch it, you need to go in to watch it for the camp. There's a hysterical scene where Black Hat is literally conducting a massacre as Bach's Funeral Mass is playing in the background. You can't see that and not laugh. It's just impossible to take seriously. The scares are telegraphed and not that scary, there's a tiny bit of gore, but it's rather minimal considering the genre (though less surprising in face of the rating). Some of the talky parts do drag (you see them trying to set up something between Priest and the Priestess- whom are both celibate, it almost looks like she's enjoying herself too much just handing him a Crucifix from That Day) and you don't really care about the characters much- I was personally rooting for Black Hat, not only because it's Karl, but because I found the Sheriff obnoxious (Priest "If she's infected, I'm going to kill her." Sheriff: "I won't let you do that!!11!!") and quiet frankly, Black Hat was having fun. Not that the others were supposed to, but the almost over-the-topness of the performance helped give the film some levity it needed.
Priest is not a good movie. It's a bad movie. Everything that it has been accused of being, it is. And yet, if you go into with the right mindset: that you're going to see something cheesy, it's fun. And for that reason and that reason alone...
My grade: B