Priest is one of those movies whose concept design is so beautiful and intriguing that you want desperately to see a story set among its medieval/steampunk Blade Runner-style citiscapes and radioactive wastelands. Until the film's story starts unfolding.
And that's around the time you'll realize that even with hives of cool-looking vampires, cowboys on motorcycles, and ninja priests, there are some stories that are just too dumb to live.
Priest, based on a graphic novel, is set in an incoherent alternative history mashup world where humans and vampires have been at war for millennia, until finally a version of the Catholic church decides to train a bunch of priests to kill the buggers. And then the vampires are all rounded up onto "reservations," and the humans into these amazing cities that are sort of a cross between 19th century Manchester and far-future Shanghai (the cities look so fantastic it will make you cry to see them wasted on such a crap flick). The Church declares the war with the vamps over, and sends all the priests home to work in menial jobs and generally play the roles of mistreated war veterans.
The world is fairly post-apocalyptic because the humans have nuked everything in their war with the vamps, but a few hardy humans live in frontier towns. It's in one of these towns that the vampires begin to strike again, and we are treated to a scene of creepy, eyeless fangers ripping the hell out of Little House on the Radioactive Prairie. Turns out one of these prairie types has a brother who is the most badass priest of them all, and he decides to defy the Church and hunt down those vamps (along with his brother's daughter, who was kidnapped). Luckily, Priest (as he's known) has this super awesome vamp-hunting supercycle that for some reason the Church hasn't taken away from him.
So he lights out for the territories, aided by a "lawman," and the two of them investigate a series of abandoned vamp reservations and hives in scenes that would have made a fantastic Weird Western if only they hadn't been full of dialogue like this:
Lawman: Killing comes easy to you.
Priest: No. It just comes.
Or how about this? Maggie Q shows up as Priest's friend, another priest who wants to help him out:
Maggie: Sometimes I can't sleep. [long pause] I have bad dreams about it, about being on the front lines again.
Priest: [long pause] Me too.
Maggie: [super long pause] And sometimes I have good nights, and good dreams.
Well, OK, glad to know that sometimes she has good dreams too. Maybe she can tell us about the nights when she gets up to pee, or grabs a midnight snack?
And then there's the bad guy, Priest's former buddy from the order, lost during the most traumatic battle of Priest's career. He's been turned into a vampire by the queen vamp, and has stopped dressing goth like Priest — now he dresses like a cowboy, complete with a black hat. And he's gone all steampunk on your ass by taking over a steam train which is going to bring a bunch of vamps into the cities for a bloodfest.
Black hat vamp delivers the immortal line: "If you're not sinning, you're not having fun!" Well, there's a fear-inducing sentiment if I ever heard one. Also, his main weapons seem to be punching and looking menacingly out from under the brim of his hat.
I think perhaps the worst part of this film is its unbelievable humorlessness. The whole scenario is pretty campy, but nobody ever makes a joke - not even once. (Unless you count the sinning line, which - please don't.) You can't hop around on antivamp motorcycles wearing flowing robes and tossing cross-shaped knives around without at least having some zingers in the mix. Plus, everybody keeps praying, which only adds to the weirdly sombre tone.
Still, it's hard to hate everything in a movie that has a lot of Maggie Q in it being a badass. And like I said, the concept design, from the environments to the vampires, is superlative. If only the flimsy story lived up to the world where it were set, we'd have a pretty great flick on our hands. As it is, we have a sad little mess that can't take a joke.