‘Priest’: Holy shit

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Welcome, parishioners! Our reading today will be from the Book of Paul (Bettany).

It’s the story of a young, striking, classically trained actor with a promising future led into temptation by the draw of the monetary gain of crappy genre films. It’s a familiar tale, originally found in the Book of Julian (Sands).

Back in the early ‘80s, Sands was the overseas thinking-woman’s hunk. Starring in two back-to-back Oscar-winning films (“The Killing Fields” and “Room with a View”), Sands was rocketing skyward. But along came a little film called “Warlock,” that changed the direction of his career. From that point, he filled his resume with films like “Witch Hunt,” “Tale of the Vampire,” and “Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunter.”

Bettany’s path is still relatively fresh, but the gravitational pull of films like “Priest,” and 2009’s similarly apocalyptic “Legion,” are pointing the actor in a similar direction.

His latest, “Priest,” is merely grafted from so many other post-apocalyptic pics, it’s hard to keep count. Set somewhere in the future — about 30 years AB ( After “Blade Runner”) — Bettany is a member of an ass-kicking clergy that rides “Tron”-like cycles but dwell in some cyberpunk version of a spaghetti western.

The robed men of God hold a totalitarian rule over the city, keeping its citizens safe-but-ill-informed from mongrel vampire hordes and their slimy, pod-born offspring. When a pack kidnaps a family member of our main man Bettany (referred to only as “Preist” throughout), he kicks off a holy war between them.

You would think Bettany might have had his share of the crucifix-centric films. His last few roles — playing a monk, an archangel and now a priest — have resulted in self-flagellation, the apocalypse, and now the wrath of ninja vampires.

“Priest” is a cliche cyclone, filled with every imaginable line, character, plot device and action sequence audiences expect with such a picture. But as we’ve learned this summer, much can be done with cliche (“Battle: Los Angeles,” “Fast Five”) as long as it’s done with ingenuity and talent.

It’s adapted from a source of so many modern films, a graphic novel. “Legion” director Scott Charles Stewart is in tow, and while he’s polished up his camera a bit, but he can’t add enough spice to all the leftovers that surround it.

Maggie Q (“Casino Royale”) and Karl Urban (“Star Trek”) make marginal impact as the sidekick and the heavy, respectively. But is is Bettany who suffers the most, not because he lacks the dramatic strength, but because the entire affair seems beneath the ability he’s demonstrated in such films as “A Beautiful Mind,” “Master and Commander” and “Wimbleton.”
As said previously, it’s early enough in his career to repent for such cinematic sins, but continuing with low-rent genre films like “Priest” may cause his career to slip like the Sands of time.

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