In drawing on other films, nothing’s sacred in ‘Priest’

'Priest' Paul Bettany plays a vampire slayer in a thriller influenced by “The Searchers,’’ “The Matrix,’’ and many other movies. (Scott Garfield/Screen Gems)
By Mark Feeney
Globe Staff / May 16, 2011

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‘Priest’’ is based on a series of Korean graphic novels. What it’s really based on, though, is other movies — a whole lot of other movies.

An animated prologue summarizes a history in which Earth has been dominated by two groups, humans and vampires. The vampires always held the upper hand, or at least they did at night, until a group of warrior priests came along to vanquish them. A large cross tattooed on the forehead serves the dual purpose of identifying the priests and making them look like skinheads.

With the vampires now put in their place, most humans live in dark, teeming, neon-lit cities (hey, it’s “Blade Runner’’!). A few outcasts live in a post-apocalyptic landscape (hey, it’s the Mad Max movies!). A married couple and their daughter work a hardscrabble farm. The father’s named Owen and he has an absent brother who’s . . . let’s just say interesting (hey, it’s the first “Star Wars’’ movie!).

The priests, who have imprisoned the vampires on reservations (they’re like “Shutter Island,’’ only without the ocean views), are now decommissioned. When vampires kidnap Owen’s daughter, the local sheriff (don’t even try to count how many westerns “Priest’’ is) comes into the city to get one of the priests to help him rescue her (all right, one of the westerns is “The Searchers’’).

That priest, played by Paul Bettany, is Owen’s brother. Never cracking a smile, Bettany looks like Ed Harris with finer facial features. Maybe he’s making up for playing that evil monk in “The Da Vinci Code’’. He climbs aboard his nitrogen-powered motorcycle to give chase (it’s all those American International biker pictures from the ’60s!). The sight of Bettany slicing across the desert has a kind of bozo grandeur, as does “Priest,’’ generally.

As a lady priest, Maggie Q shares a chaste, unspoken love with a fellow priest (hey, it’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’’!). She’s one of a quartet of clerical vampire hunters sent out to stop Bettany, who has disobeyed church orders to go on his mission. Those orders come from Christopher Plummer, who has a high old time doing everything but waggle his eyebrows as a sinister monsignor (hey, it’s that TV movie where Plummer played Cardinal Law!).

The vampire-hunting priests wear black garments that look a lot more like dusters than cassocks (it’s “The Matrix’’?) and they move in slow motion when they go into martial-arts mode, which they frequently do (definitely “The Matrix’’).

The vampires, it turns out, travel on a special windowless train (hey, it’s “To the Finland Station’’ — oh, wait, that’s not a movie). The train looks really cool. Three-D doesn’t add much to the “Priest’’ viewing experience, frankly, but that’s OK since even in 2-D it’s pretty interesting to look at. Having so many influences can do that for a movie.

The train hurtles along at break-fang speed (hey, it’s a Coors Light ad!). Bettany and Cam Gigandet, as the sheriff, need to commandeer it (hey, it’s “The General’’!). Do they succeed? Let’s just say the movie ends with the figurative words “To be continued’’ all but filling the screen (hey, it’s a series!).

Mark Feeney can be reached at

PRIEST Directed by: Scott Charles Stewart

Written by: Cory Goodman (based on the graphic novels by Min-Woo Hyung)

Starring: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Christopher Plummer

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 97 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action; there’s also an unnerving sense of general menace and doom)

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