Like his first feature “Legion,” Scott Stewart’s sophomore entry is a clichéd, multi-genre tale of apocalyptic proportions, with distributor Screen Gems again deciding that the film would be better suited if not previewed for those of us who toss our thumbs up, down, and sideways—and thus, hopefully, giving you some slant on whether to take a seat, or vacate one, at your local multiplex. “Priest” is a 3D entry that I caught, with a few dozen other paying customers, at a 12:01 AM midnight showing Friday morning. If you’ve watched any of the trailers, they make about as much sense as the full feature does. Paul Bettany once more is slumming as a fearless, determined, and mirthless individual in action mode. He’s a granite-faced man of god battling a constipated monsignor (Christopher Plummer, in I’ll-do-this-role-to-pay-off-a-car-loan mode) as well a mythical assortment of boorish vampires, creepy ‘familiars’ (ugly looking clones of Lord Voldemort), and some mean looking cowboys including a turned priest named ‘Black Hat’ (Karl Urban), whose wardrobe is lifted straight from all those 1960s Sergio Leone-Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns.
This exercise in overproduced mediocrity steals with abandon as it paints a bleak, blackened-smoke futuristic cityscape borrowed from “Blade Runner” and other such dark movies—the kind that have its destitute citizens slumming in rain-soaked streets into pre-programmed video confessionals that look remarkably like portable toilets. Everyone’s stumbling about the depressing CGI-created streets of Cathedral City, including the titular character (actually there are several retired-from-active-battle warrior clerics, all with no names and later credited merely as Priestess (Maggie Q), Brave Priest, Strong Priest, Bold Priest, and Flashback Priest. You know they’re of the cloth because of the tattooed crucifixes on their foreheads, which doesn’t help if you’re trying to remain incognito.
When the film is not inhabiting the gloomy scifi metropolis, it switches to a horror-filled western landscape, mostly a bleached-out and parched desert motif that finds the bad vampires and their minions squabbling over Lucy (Lily Collins), a kidnapped 18-year-old rebellious relative of Priest. She’s the bait to lure the good guys; aside from Priest and Priestess, there’s the local sharpshootin’ Sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet), whose got a-hankering for the teenage ranch girl. They play video-game whack-a-beast inside the massive Sola Mira Hive (so it is actually a “b” movie”) and ultimately on a sleek high speed train heading toward an all too obvious date with destiny.
If you like hackneyed, cross-eyed attempts that blend western, scifi, and horror genres overwhelmed by a pretentious, chorale-laden score (horror maestro Christopher Young was responsible for banging out the soundtrack), you’ll probably admire this bloody Americanization of the story’s Asian pop roots (Cory Goodman’s first-produced screenplay is apparently very loosely based on the graphic novel series by Min-Woo Hyung). But get to the theater soon. The nitro-boosted motorcycles are cool, but so what? I give this monstrosity two weeks at the box office at best, as the bigger and better summer fare will quickly crowd it out of the big screen marketplace.
At the end of most 3-D screenings you have the option to recycle the special glasses you need to properly watch these films. When I plopped the plastic lenses into the cardboard bin, I was wondering if the technology might soon be available—and which I wish had been available sometime before 2 AM this Friday morning—of recycling the time I had to spend watching “Priest.”