A legendary Warrior Priest (Paul Bettany) from the last Vampire War 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.

Vampires, cowboys and warrior priests: an unholy mess.

After Sony’s Screen Gems produced the dreary quasi-religious, post-Apocalyptic horror movie Legion starring Paul Bettany and directed by first-timer Scott Stewart, why on Earth would the studio bankroll yet another film in a similar genre for that duo?

One suspects the top brass at Sony asked that question after Priest turned out to be an unholy mess which was given its last rites soon after opening in the US in May.

Legion, which featured a hopelessly miscast Bettany as an archangel who sets out to save the Earth from a vengeful God, was B-grade tosh, witless, silly and tedious; the follow-up is even worse.

And in making a mockery of Christianity, Priest is even more offensive to people of that faith, not that any will be tempted to see it.

Bettany seems to have been typecast as some kind of religious figure after playing an assassin for Opus Dei in The Da Vinci Code. Here he’s a warrior priest who has been put out to pasture by the Church after supposedly vanquishing the vampires who had waged war against mankind.

The screenplay by inexperienced writer Cory Goodman, very loosely based on a series of Korean graphic novels created by Min-Woo Hyung, postulates that humans live in walled-off cities while the vamps have been interned in remote prisons.

Bettany’s Priest asks the Monsignor (a sardonic Christopher Plummer) for his badge back after learning the beasties attacked his brother (Stephen Moyer) and his wife and kidnapped their 18-year-old daughter Lucy (Lily Collins, terrible). Lucy’s family inexplicably live in a wasteland, prompting her to complain she has 'no friends, no fun."

The Monsignor refuses, dismissing any notion of a vampire threat and threatening excommunication if he disobeys. Priest isn’t deterred and sets out across the wasteland on a souped-up motorcycle to find his niece, reluctantly teaming up with a sheriff, Hicks (Cam Gigandet of Twilight fame, who is more persuasive as a bloodsucker than a vamp hunter).

It transpires that Hicks was courting Lucy and he’s not best pleased when Priest declares he’ll have to kill the girl if she’s been infected. For a man of the cloth, the ninja-skilled Priest kills without any compunction, firstly slaying a bunch of soldiers then whacking a few bald, bad humans known as Familiars before a series of battles with the undead creatures, some of whom resemble Gollum on speed.

Maggie Q turns up as Priestess, another retired warrior despatched by Monsignor to find Priest and bring him back dead or alive, but she’s actually fond of Priest and joins him and Hicks. With the subtlety of a sledgehammer, the script emphasises Priest and Priestess both took vows of celibacy so a scene in which when they are fleetingly drawn to each is truly tacky. A shot of three priests who’ve been crucified is similarly jarring.

The chief foe is a menacing dude who looks like he stepped out of the Wild West known as Black Hat (Karl Urban, doing a very poor Clint Eastwood impersonation, or maybe Jack Palance).

The slow-motion confrontation between Priest and Black Hat on top of a speeding train (how original!) is as ludicrous and as it is lacking in tension. Stewart shamelessly borrows from movies such as The Searchers, Mad Max, The Matrix and Indiana Jones, without a whit of originality or style.

Ill suited to the demands of being an action hero, Bettany scowls, growls and utters clunky dialogue such as, 'It’s gonna be a war," 'You got your gun? You’re going to need it," and 'it’s a trap!"

The end teases the prospect of a sequel which I pray will never come to pass.

Converted to 3D in post production, the movie offers zero added value in that format, the extra depth merely reinforcing the shoddiness of the special effects which look awfully cheap for a budget reported to be $US60 million, and the lame acting.

DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg surely had this film among others in mind when he said recently, 'I think there were, unfortunately, a number of people who thought that they could capitalise on what was a great, genuine excitement by movie goers for a new premium experience, and thought they could just deliver a kind of low-end crappy version of it, and people wouldn't care, or wouldn't know the difference. '

We do, Jeffrey, we do.


1 hour 28 min
In Cinemas 25 August 2011,
Fri, 12/23/2011 - 11