Paul Bettany, left, stars in "Priest." (Screen Gems / MCT )
Vampires — so hot right now! Also religion. And the apocalypse. And maybe cowboys? Pull together a hodgepodge of all these elements and one ends up with something like "Priest," the big-screen adaptation of a series of graphic novels, directed by Scott Stewart.
A long war between humans and oozy, unsexy, eyeless vampires ended with the humans victorious, thanks to a league of battle-trained priests. The remaining vampires have been herded into remote prisons, while humans live in walled-off cities, rendering the warrior-priests unnecessary.
When a city-dwelling former priest (Paul Bettany) learns that his country-dwelling brother (an underused Stephen Moyer from "True Blood") and his family have been attacked, it's time to dust off the jet-cycle and head into the desert to investigate. The priest discovers that peacetime has not been as peaceful as it might have seemed and has to head off an oncoming vampire invasion.
The film is somehow a disappointing combo of too-full and oddly empty. Even with all the various parts and pieces going into its structure, it feels bare-bones — the differentiation between the dystopian future-cities and the dust-bowl hinterlands never creates the tension it should, and a fistful of crucifixes that become throwing stars is as deep as the theology gets.
Stewart, with a background in visual effects, likes to place his characters as tiny specks in vast, open vistas, which may partly explain why the film remains disconcertingly remote. An animated prologue (designed by Genndy Tartakovsky in the style of Min-Woo Hyung's original art) gives a primer on the mythology and contains the film's most engaging visuals.
"Priest" is being projected (and priced) in 3-D venues; it was converted in post production. While watching in 3-D it is easy to forget that there are supposed to be some additional dimensional effects, were it not for the glasses on your face and their dimming of on-screen color. The film also ends with a blatant set-up for a sequel that feels not only crass but also premature — one can only wish the filmmakers would have concentrated more on the film they were making rather than eyeing the one they might make next.