Based on Min-Woo Hyung's graphic novels, this post-apocalyptic action flick charts the mission of a devout superhuman warrior 'Priest' (Paul Bettany) to save his young relative Lucy from the clutches of an evil vampire horde. He is compelled to turn his back on the church to pursue the lass, aided by two bland sidekicks in the form of Lucy's boyfriend Hicks (Cam Gigandet) and the selfless Priestess (Maggie Q). They encounter plenty of phallic-inspired CGI baddies before a final showdown with the Big Bad - played by young Dr 'Bones' himself, Karl Urban.
On the subject of bones, the bare skeleton of Priest's storyline is fundamentally sound, revolving around the classic epic structure of the central hero's courageous quest to overcome both evil and his own mental obstacles. It's the layers of flesh added on top that are the problem. While Paul Bettany is convincing as an ass-whooper and exudes earnesty, there's no escaping the fact that his character is the dullest priest since Father Paul Stone visited his pal Ted on Craggy Island in a certain much-loved Channel 4 sitcom.
With the lead doing little more than brooding, fighting and zipping across dusty plains on his bike, the supporting characters needed to be extremely engaging to compensate. They aren't. Hicks, who is clearly designed to provide the fun element as the maverick sidekick, instead induces nausea. Cam Gigandet is given little more than clichéd one-liners and an ill-conceived subplot that turns him against Priest, but the actor's frequent attempts to exude heroism consist of highly annoying nostril flaring and teeth so gritted that he probably ended up with gnashers like Shane MacGowan's after filming.
Fortunately, Scott Stewart showcases his directorial skills throughout the movie, but without ever egotistically showing off in a blaze of visual pyrotechnics (unlike some other action helmers who shall not be named). His camerawork, shot composition, sense of timing and use of slow-mo during the fight scenes are all superb, engendering those sequences with both clarity and immediacy. The dystopian world, which resembles an Orwellian spin on Blade Runner's cityscape, accompanied by Christopher 'Hellraiser' Young's fine score , is also absorbing - albeit briefly. We are let into this intriguing world, governed by fear-inducing religious nutters and bars that dispense beverages via vending machines rather than human staff, but given little to feast on once the appetite to learn more has been barely satisfied.
There's an overriding sense that many aspects of the movie have either been shockingly underdeveloped… or left on the cutting room floor. Urban's dastardly chief antagonist suffers the most, barely registering until the final showdown and lacking sufficient presence throughout the bulk of the movie. It says a great deal that his character is called 'Black Hat' - for he is little more than that. Various backstories are also tantalisingly touched upon, such as Priest's past relations with both his arch-nemesis and his loyal colleague, Priestess, but not in enough depth to lend sufficient motivation to any of the characters. Will we find out more in a possible sequel that the ending of Priest tries to set up? That would be an ecumenical matter…