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Save a prayer for Priest

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The horror-action flick Priest begins with some juicy exposition related through trippy anime (not surprising, considering the source material was a Korean graphic novel) before plunging into its story about a "Warrior Priest" (Paul Bettany) who sets out after the vampires who kidnapped his niece (Lily Collins). And for a while, the picture looks as if it might deliver on a palatable pulp-popcorn level: Director Scott Stewart keeps the proceedings moving at a breathless clip, Bettany's seething conviction as both a man of the cloth and a man of action is inspiring, and the obvious plot parallels to John Ford's The Searchers (seriously!) are a nice touch.

Nicest of all, though, is the decision to initially keep the vampires out of sight, a throwback to the rule dictated by filmmakers Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur that suspense is best maintained when the monsters exist in the mind rather than on the screen. However, this being 2011, we know we'll eventually see the vampires — which is fine ... until we actually see them. These creatures are, in a word, laughable. Created entirely through CGI — unconvincing CGI, I might add — they suggest the result of a threesome between Dracula, The Road Runner, and a slug. The exception is the "human vampire" called Black Hat (Karl Urban), who in the end turns out to be a stock movie villain, only with sharper teeth.

After a strong beginning, Priest ends with a whiff of Jonah Hex about it. Keep searching.

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