One could say the premise is intriguing - a remake of The Searchers wherein one replaces the Indians with vampires. But alas, an intriguing premise is all we get. Once one gets past said intriguing premise and moves onto the movie proper, ye be abandoned with little hope. Dark and somber (and not in the good way) Scott Charles Stewart's Priest (adapted from the Korean graphic novel by Min-woo Hyung) just sort of lays there, almost as if it were waiting to come to life, but never truly does - deader than the undead that inhabit its frame. But then, the movie isn't all bad - it does have its moments, even if they are, as they say, few and far between.
As far as the story goes, Priest is an alternate-reality story of a human world constantly at war with vampires (portrayed here as slimy, eyeless half-animal creatures that live in giant termite-like hives, servicing their queen) until a group of kick-ass priests finally destroy the majority of the blood-suckers and incarcerate the remaining ones in guarded reservations. After this supposed (cause ya know they're comin' back) victory, the priests are stripped of their clout (war heroes and all) and the church rules the rest of humanity, locked away in fortified cities, with the iron fist of religion. Meanwhile, the outlying areas are inhabited by a rogue's gallery of western stereotypes, complete with simple farmers, travelling hucksters and a young, untested sheriff who will inevitably become a heroic figure despite himself. It is out in this no man's land that a surprise attack by vampires, and the kidnapping of his niece, draws this priest back into service - against the orders of the church that do not want the people to know that vampires are still a danger to them. See, I told you they were coming back.
Paul Bettany plays this titular evil-fighting priest, and the actor just looks bored to death (ha!) throughout the movie. After Legion, this is Bettany's second time at playing a scarred, religious figure fighting evil in order to save humanity for the director (and he has only directed two films) and can be construed as a sort of typecasting once one adds his albino monk in The Da Vinci Code to the fray. Perhaps this explains his boredom with the role. Whatever the case, Bettany (a far better actor than what he seems here) seems as out of it as those viewers watching him and trying not to fall asleep. Yet, as bored as Bettany seems, costar and villainous antagonist Karl Urban (one of my favourite up-and-coming actors), playing a more-what-we-are-used-to human vampire, seems to be having the time of his scenery-chewing life. Dressed like something out of The Wild Wild West, Urban (also great as the retooled Bones McCoy in the equally retooled J.J. Abrams' Star Trek) prances about in ubiquitous, but still quite enjoyable villainous glee. Too bad he could not save the proverbial day (or night as the case may be). [05/18/11]