March 30, 2006

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Night Watch (R)
reviewed by Amy Diaz

Good vampires and bad vampires fight to keep the balance between good and evil in Moscow (and presumably the rest of the world, but Moscow is where these vamps walk the beat) in Night Watch.

That the forces of good and evil started out looking like armor-wearing extras from The Lord of the Rings and end up looking like club goers (the evil vamps) and homeless former bureaucrats (the good vamps) is one of the charming little touches of this cinematic oddity that is apparently the Matrix of the former USSR. There’s lots of bad music and hokey special effects in Night Watch but the movie is not Uwe Boll-campy enough to be the cheesefest that such elements usually suggest. Without being nearly as good as something like 28 Days Later, the British zombie movie of a few years ago, Night Watch has a similar raw feel, which makes even its more absurd moments sort of entertaining.

By the time Good and Evil — or actually Light and Dark, as the supernatural or Others separate themselves — reach the modern times, they have a certain amount of world-weariness about them. The struggle between them is sort of a Cold War where their abilities to interfere with the lives of human (by, for example, biting them and making them vampires) is policed by the Night Watch (the Light vampires who keep the Darks from spreading too much evil) and the Day Watch (the Darks who keep the Lights off their backs). Anton Gorodesty (Konstantin Khabensky) is just a regular joe looking to curse his wife for leaving him but finds out during a trip to the witch doctor that he’s an Other, a Light and a Seer (a guy who can tell vampire from human, look in to the supernatural-hiding Gloom and see the future). His abilities make him a valuable member of a Darks-hunting team of Night Watchers who are supposed to discourage the taking of humans with violent but non-lethal means. But during one mission, Anton kills a Dark to save a spooky young boy, getting in all sorts of détente-threatening trouble. And then there’s the impending doom brought about by a girl named Virgin who could apparently cause the destruction of the whole world.

Forget the battles between the Lights and Darks, it’s the struggle between an impulse toward squirty stage blood and quick edits and the much wiser impulse to let good and evil mix it up in modern, compromise-making style that’s the true war at the center of this film. Special effects that seem to have been created on somebody’s Tandy, circa 1983, threaten to mask the very unsupernatural gloom of Moscow, a perfect battleground city as it has already lost a war. B


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