Movie Review: Priest

Hi there!

The Summer 2011 movie season has started even though Spring in Colorado has been one of mixed wind, snow, rain, and sun so far. Thor was fun, and I was hoping Priest with Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, and Maggie Q might continue the trend. Let’s just say I almost walked out after 25 minutes and wish I had so I could have used that time more wisely.

Let’s set the stage before I rip this film up however.

Priest is set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world where vampires and humankind have always battled for supremacy. People moved to cities with high walls to protect them, but we were losing badly. That is until the Church started finding people with extraordinary abilities who were fast enough to actually battle vampires effectively. This small band of brothers and sisters eventually got them under control. Rather than destroying the vampires however, they decided to put them on reservations and keep them locked up for eternity.

The Priest referred to in the title of the film (Bettany) gets a message from the outpost where his brother is living with his wife and daughter saying that his niece had been kidnapped by the vampires, her mother killed, and Priest’s brother slowly dying. Could he help? Sure, but it would mean turning his back on the Church and going against orders. Sometimes a little disobedience is required, and Priest goes off to save his niece. The Church isn’t happy and sends out four more priests after him, including the Priestess (Maggie Q, TV’s Nikita). And Priest discovers that it’s an old friend who’s taken his niece (Urban, Red, Lord of the Rings trilogy)…

I’ll stop there because I wouldn’t want to spoil the story. Not that you don’t already know all of that from the trailers, but hey.

So what went wrong with this film?

It starts off with an animated sequence that tells a bit of the backstory of the war, the priests, and so on. It has to be the bloodiest animation I’ve seen in quite a while, but it was fine. Suitably dark with a bit of narration to tell us what we need to know. But it quickly became evident that the soundtrack by Christopher Young was going to be a loud, less well written homage to the Conan soundtrack by Basil Poleadoris. That annoyed me throughout the film.

Once we actually meet Priest, it becomes readily apparent that Bettany decided this character wasn’t going to have any emotions at all. Even Urban’s “Black Hat” character only really has one good scene and it appears in the trailers where he’s directing mayhem Joker-style. Christopher Plummer puts in an appearance as Monsignor Orelas, a humorless control freak with little redeeming value.

Honestly the only character remotely likable was Maggie Q’s Priestess. She had the most emotional range of any of the characters and hardly received much screen time for her trouble.

And the vampires themselves were kind of interesting. Eyeless with four legs and big fangs ready to rip a person to shreds. They looked a bit slimy, but hey – they live underground and in the dark. You’d probably be slimy too.

Let me tick off the other things that bugged me. The story is transparent and railroaded. The cinematography has two modes – washed out and white in the desert or salt flats or dark, whether dark outside or underground. When it’s washed out, it’s really washed out. And when it’s dark, it’s dark. The wirework was uninteresting, even as Priest and Black Hat duel on the top of a speeding train. The 3D effects were largely uninteresting and did nothing to advance the plot (such as it was)…

Ultimately I really think the vampires should have won. I highly recommend you avoid Priest and skip it even when it comes out on DVD unless you’re really bored. Let’s hope that the rest of the movie season improves.

I just wish I’d walked out when the first inclination hit. [sigh]

–Fitz

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Why doesn’t Nikita work for me?

Hi there…

Every so often, I ponder why I like one television show, but not another. Sometimes I blame it on the actors (“I don’t like So-and-So”)… Sometimes I blame it on the writing… And sometimes there’s just something missing that brings a particular show together.

As another Fall television season approaches, I’m looking at the schedule and wondering what shows I think I’m going to like and what I’m not.

The first of the premieres was Nikita on The CW. Though there is beauty, action, and gadgets – unfortunately it’s not going to be enough to keep my attention.

When La Femme Nikita was released in 1990 from then relatively unknown director Luc Besson, I managed to catch it on video. It blew my mind. It was intense, with action, acting, and the sense that there was much more there than met the eye. Actress Anne Parillaud as Nikita was fierce, intense, and demanded your attention on screen.

We’ll skip the Bridget Fonda movie Point of No Return, which was an American take on the original. It was horrible and we’ll leave it at that.

When the television series popped up in 1997 starring then unknown actress Peta Wilson in the lead role, I was hooked again. Somehow it not only managed to capture the intensity, action, and depth of the original movie, but it expanded the story in a way that never lost itself in the weeds. I lost track of the series in its last few years, but watched from ’97 through ’99 and enjoyed it thoroughly.

That brings us to the 2010 version of Nikita starring Maggie Q as Nikita. She’s stunning and intense, but not quite as imposing a figure as either Parillaud or Peta for me. But it’s when you get past Maggie to the rest of the cast that I started to lose interest.

Shane West in the role of Michael – Nikita’s handler – just doesn’t cut it. Compared to the first TV series where Roy Dupuis plays the character, West simply doesn’t have the dynamic range to play sensitive to scary. West has tried over the last 10 or so years to shake the image of teenager Eli from ABC’s Once and Again with roles like Tom Sawyer in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Dr. Barnett in E.R., but it’s just not working for me.

And Melinda Clarke as Amanda, the woman who transforms beautiful, troubled people into runway models with grace and poise as they assassinate people. Melinda is a great actress who’s been in some very eclectic things over the years, including Soldier of Fortune, Inc., Spawn, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. But Amanda pales when compared to Alberta Watson’s Madeline from the ’90s series as well. Watson ate up the screen in that role.

There are other characters I could compare to earlier incarnations, but I won’t. In this case, it seems to be a mix of writing and casting that’s making Nikita not work for me. Maybe I’ll check in after a few episodes to see if it’s improved any – but most likely I won’t be watching again unless I’m very bored.

What do you think? Or did you even know that Nikita had started? If so, you’re better at ignoring advertising than I am. I’d seen ads in magazines and on television for weeks before the series premiere.

For more information about Nikita, check out their website here.

–Fitz

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