Night Watch

Reviewed By brianorndorf
Posted 03/03/06 15:46:40

"We have to sit through two more of these?"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

A huge hit in Russia, and highly anticipated here in the US, “Night Watch” has some lofty expectations to fill with its highly stylized tale of good vs. evil. It’s a shame the film is an often incomprehensible bore, laden with needles visual flourishes and storytelling that will someday make sense (lord help me, it better) when the filmmakers get around to finishing this proposed trilogy.

Since the dawn of time, the monsters of the world have been locked in a struggle for control of humanity. Separated into forces of Light and Dark, the two called for a truce after much bloodshed, and spent 1000 years policing each other and protecting the human race. In 2004, Anton (Konstantin Khabenky), a vampire soldier for the Night Watch, finds himself caught up in a prophecy that foretells a supreme being known as the "Great One," who will arrive in Moscow and end the battle between the warring sides forever. In an effort to protect a young boy who might be the chosen one, Anton must investigate his own connection to the boy before the forces of the Dark convince the child to join them.

Consistently promoting itself as the cinematic sensation of Russia, "Night Watch" finally makes it to American shores after a year trapped in Fox Searchlight limbo (the marketing was all tied to a summer 2005 release). Based on a popular series of novels, "Night Watch" was the "Titanic" of Russia, breaking all box office records and setting the stage for two sequels (the first of which was released this past January). That's a lot of baggage for one little supernatural thriller to carry, leaving the simple, obvious question: what is all the fuss about?

Either because of the production's distinctly Russian roots or Fox's butchering of the film before the US release, "Night Watch" is an agonizingly dull experience, mired by increasingly baffling storytelling from director Timur Bekmambetov. The central plot of the film is simple enough to follow. Any casual fan of cinema has seen enough "chosen one" stories to last two lifetimes, making Anton's arc in "Night Watch" easy to connect from A to B; but Bekmambetov is looking to juice up the picture past its routine genre offerings by providing gratuitous ornamentation in the visual department, regularly giving the audience hyper cutting and Guy Ritchie flavored images, most of which are dumbfounding and derivative of other, better filmmakers.

Truthfully, full judgment on the coherency of "Night Watch" should be reserved until the entire trilogy sees the light of day, but it troubled me that the director couldn't be bothered to try and attack one film at a time for more studious audiences, like Peter Jackson did with his "Lord of the Rings" series. Unfortunately, "Night Watch" is so dependent on explanations to come that it's hard to concentrate on the story at hand. The film routinely pulls filler scenes and images out of its behind, leaving the whole enterprise cold as ice. Dare I even consider that perhaps this is all there is, and Bekmambetov doesn't have a blueprint for his trilogy? "Night Watch" certainly hints at this possibility.

Fox does their part for the US release by including a way too cutesy reference to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and trying out the same subtitling technique found in the 2004 hit, "Man on Fire." These subtitles don't merely lay there motionless at the bottom of the frame like an old wife on anniversary night. Oh no, the words dance here, jumping around the screen following the emphasis of the action, sometimes changing colors, or even accompanying characters as they move off screen.

As with "Man on Fire," it's hard to ignore that this is Fox's way of trying to cover for the film's lack of excitement with this faintly obnoxious method of subtitling; however, watching "Night Watch" lumber to a finish, you realize it needs all the artificial spark it can find.

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