It’s interesting to see a movie like Timur Bekmambetov’s “Night Watch”, especially considering that my only exposure to Russian genre films has been two movies by Aleksei Balabanov. “Night Watch” is not like Balabanov’s movies; for one, Bekmambetov seems to come from the Michael Bay school of directing. Stylish camera angles, quick cut editing, and enough superfluous special effects to make the Wachowski brothers beg forgiveness for their CGI indulgences via the two “Matrix” sequels. That said, you’ve probably never seen a Russian movie like “Night Watch” before, but you’ve probably seen lots of movie like it elsewhere — most notably Hollywood.
“Night Watch” begins promisingly enough, with a prologue taking place in some indeterminate ancient time, where the Forces of Light encounters the Force of Darkness, and the two sides battle it out on what looks like a bridge. When the two sides realize they’re too evenly matched, a truce was reached. Fast-forward to the present, where a disheveled Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) gets ready for his first assignment — capture or kill vampires that have broken the “truce” established by the aforementioned battle thousands of years ago.
You see, Anton is one of the “Others”, those who knows what’s going on, and have superhuman abilities. Although in Anton’s case, his ability seems to be getting his butt kicked. To wit: Anton’s first mission proves to be a semi-success — he saves a boy’s life, kills one vampire, but gets thrashed something awful, and the vampire’s female companion escapes. I guess you’d say he was batting .500. In any case, it seems the Dark Powers That Be have something more elaborate in mind for our ineffectual hero, who soon discovers that the boy he saved was no other than his son, whom he had tried to murder 12 years ago under the mistaken belief that the boy was the lovechild of his strayed wife. Long story short, the bad guys have plans for the kid, and Anton figures prominently into it.
If you thought the above synopsis was convoluted, you haven’t seen anything yet. At almost two hours, the plots and subplots of “Night Watch” are enough to, well, fill a novel, from which novelist Sergei Lukyanenko adapted himself. So if the script feels — mostly because it is — muddled to the point of being gratuitously confusing, it’s probably done on purpose. The film itself rarely takes a second to explain things, which is probably a good thing, since the explanations are all just a tad silly.
Aside from a prophecy about the emergence of a “chosen one”-type who will, once and for all, end the power struggle (aren’t there always one in these movies?), the film feels episodic in nature. One such side episode concerns a woman who has been “cursed”, and a literal “funnel” of (one supposes) evil is now emanating from her condo. The funnel has captured a plane in its wake, and unless the Forces of Light — in this case, a bunch of guys in a van and working out of the city’s Light Company building — can get the curse lifted, that plane is coming down. Confused yet?
Already a big smash hit in its native Russia, “Night Watch” is the first of a planned trilogy. Rumor has it American film studios have already snapped up distribution rights and, one presumes, the remake rights as well. They needn’t bother. Aside from its Russian cast, there’s nothing “Russian” about “Night Watch”. It’s the same thing we’ve seen in countless Summer Event Films over the last decade or so. The “Blade” films, and even the recent “Underworld”, have covered much the same territory when it comes to “the real world underneath the human world” shtick. And after three “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” movies, magic doesn’t seem quite as magical anymore.
Even the movie’s special effects, of which the film has in abundance, are familiar. Although it should be said that Bekmambetov makes great use of the resources he has available, including a gazillion zooms, tons of CGI-enhanced POV shots, and enough quick cuts to put an entire generation of music video directors to shame. And crows. I’ve never seen so many CGI crows in my life. No more crows!
One thing you have to give “Night Watch” credit for is its pacing. It’s a quick film, racing through its many plots at such high speeds you never get the chance to realize that very little onscreen makes much sense. Inattentive viewers will be quickly lost, as the film never even bothers to sit down and explain its “Others” theory until well after the hour mark. As an action film, the movie has its moments, but for the most part everything is so erratically edited that the scenes get lost in thoughts such as, “Geez, why is the editing so erratic?” Coherent action, it seems, is a lost art even in Russia.
The film closes things out with a cliffhanger ala the ending of the first “Lord of the Rings”, so be warned.
Timur Bekmambetov (director) / Timur Bekmambetov (screenplay), Sergei Lukyanenko (novel)
CAST: Konstantin Khabensky …. Anton
Vladimir Menshov …. Geser
Mariya Poroshina …. Svetlana
Galina Tyunina …. Sorceress Olga
Yuri Kutsenko …. Ignat
Zhanna Friske …. Alisa Donnikova