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'Priest'

Scott Garfield/Sony Pictures

Doesn't have a prayer

Priest, directed by Scott Stewart, is a short, dour and stodgy creature feature with average 3D effects. The only fun to be had here is spotting the many film influences -- from Westerns, action-adventures and sci-fi tales.

Set in some nameless apocalyptic past or future, it's a vicars-vs.-vampires yarn that aside from a short animated scene-setter at the start and the long credits crawl at the end lasts for about 80 minutes. Lacking marquee names and much in the way of thrills, it's unlikely to linger long at the local multiplex, and the blatant setup for a sequel after the climactic battle appears almost pitiable.

The animated sequence establishes that mankind has retreated within the giant walls of vile, polluted cities after innumerable battles with their vampire enemies, who are now confined to hideous underground camps a long way away.

All that corporal mortification in The Da Vinci Code was apparently not enough for Bettany. He has the title role of another venomous cleric known only as Priest, who this time has been put out to pasture by the church that rules with an iron fist over what's left of humankind.

Two sequences set up what will follow in a ragtag script by Cory Goodman. One has elements of Indiana Jones as a band of soldier-preachers runs into a trap set by vampires in an underground maze and Priest fails to save his best mate (Karl Urban), who falls into the clutches of thirsty beasts.

The other has a Western touch as crazed attackers invade a solitary home far out in the wasteland, leave Priest's brother and his wife for dead and kidnap their daughter Lucy (Lily Collins). Back in the Blade Runner -like city on a very bad day, Priest tells the church elders that he wants his badge back so he can go rescue Lucy. As the droll but insistent Monsignor, Christopher Plummer orders him not to go anywhere as Christopher Young's choral score starts to soar.

Priest promptly leaves on a souped-up motorcycle and teams with a local lawman, Hicks (Cam Gigandet), to seek the girl. Now it's The Searchers as the embittered older man learns that Hicks is in love with Lucy but has to make it clear that if she has been bitten by the vampires, he will have to kill her.

Monsignor sends a team of priests led by Priestess (Maggie Q) to hunt down Priest, but she's really on the renegade's side, so now the three of them track the vampires to some kind of mountain shaped like a beehive. Inside, there's a large bouncy creature with nasty habits and no face but teeth like the creature from Aliens.

Inevitably, Priest's lost friend shows up, the world's first human vampire known as Black Hat and looking for all the world like a man with no name. Turns out he likes railway trains and plans to transport a new army of vampires to attack the city, and that he kidnapped Lucy just to lure Priest out so he can kill him.

Priest, Priestess and Hicks must stop the train before the villains can do any harm, and now the references come thick and fast. Once Upon a Time in the West competes with Mad Max's Roadrunner as Priest and Black Hat fight it out on top of the train while Hicks stumbles along in carriages filled with pods like the ones in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

If that sounds like any fun, it's really not.

Release date Friday, May 13 (Screen Gems)
Cast Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Lily Collins, Christopher Plummer, Maggie Q, Cam Gigandet
Director Scott Stewart
Producers Michael De Luca, Joshua Donen, Mitchell Peck, Sam Raimi, Nicolas Stern
Rated PG-13, 87 minutes