Night Watch

Reviewed By William Goss
Posted 02/28/06 05:15:37

"From Russia With Blood"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

The Others. The Light. The Dark. The Truce. The Gloom. The Prophecy. Welcome to the world of 'Night Watch,' where a capitalized lexicon of supernatural slang strives to lend credibility to the story of shape-shifters and vampires fighting in the name of good and evil. Assisted only by interactive subtitles and passable visual effects, the film becomes much too occupied with its frantic narrative, a story so convoluted and confident that it neglects to engage the audience beyond the most superficial level. What a shame that something so very busy turns out to be something so very boring.

Many years ago, a battle between the equally powerful forces of light and darkness came to a stalemate, resulting in a truce between each leader. Upon the agreed terms was the creation of the Night Watch and Day Watch, each policing the other side for any trespasses. In modern-day Moscow, the supervision is maintained, even though with a new face or a two (people who have supernatural abilities – dubbed Others – do not immediately develop their abilities, but have them eventually revealed). Such is the case with Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), who joins the team upon discovering that he is a Seer, armed with the intermittent premonition and willing to keep the occasional vampire in check. He soon becomes entwined in an ancient prophecy surrounding a young boy (Dmitri Martynov), whose inclination towards either Light or Dark will shatter the Truce and determine the overall shift of power.

Night Watch, the first adaptation of Sergei Lukyanenko’s literary trilogy, was a box-office behemoth in Russia, already spawning Day Watch and talks of Dusk Watch being co-produced by American producers. While it may have trumped Hollywood fare back home, it arrives on our shores with residual traces of the Lord of the Rings and Matrix trilogies, and even Hellboy gets a possibly unintended nod in an early scene. What seems like a rehash of typical genre conventions is then blended together with epileptic editing that hopes to keep the waning attention span of its young demographic, even with subtitles (which happens to interact with the scene, sometimes dipping with motion or obscured by a character’s arm, in an effort to keep straying eyes affixed).

What burdens Night Watch from being disposable eye candy is its abundant plot. Even for setting up an entire trilogy of mythology, this proves to be quite the overwhelming initial journey into the film’s realm. Along with being relentlessly convoluted and often humorless, the presentation is so frantic and distracting that one finds it challenging to care about the characters or even just surrender to the frenzied events with glossy B-movie standards. There are some genuinely creative ideas, and the effects are admirable when the camera stands still long enough, but such potential is worthy of a much better film, one much more deserving of the cult this one will unavoidably gather.

There remains only a marginal interest in how the sequels might turn out, with most of the exposition out of the way the first time around. Perhaps someone might restrain the chaos just enough to get in some substance amongst the chit-chat and kick-ass. (Speaking of restraint, an overkill of crows and the like does not equal excitement, just additional annoyance to the poorly-lit proceedings. There is a fine line between ominous and ostentatious, and someone needs to tell director Timur Bekmambetov exactly where it is.)

The filmmakers approach the film’s events with such inexplicable gravity, that when a character rips out his own spine to use as a sword, the resulting yawn or laugh seems like an inadvertent, yet inevitable, response. As the sum of its many parts, 'Night Watch' adds up to little more than an extravagant subtitled apocalyptic soap opera of muddled proportions, a hodge-podge of fantasy elements and action techniques executed with such recklessness, it threatens to undermine its sporadic touches of inspiration and relegate its pending sequels directly to bottom-shelf novelties at your local video store.

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