Empty"Day Watch," a successor to Russian sci-fi extravaganza "Night Watch" (2004), is every bit as messy and moronic as the original film. Yet something a little more audience friendly has entered the scene: This one has a sense of humor.
Also, at least some of the focus is on character rather than director Timur Bekmambetov's showy effects, amazing camera movements and flashy editing. The story is not always baffling and the actors are no longer mere props. Maybe when the third film of this projected trilogy, which will be titled "Dusk Watch," comes around, there might actually be a movie that is watchable by Western audiences other than hardcore sci-fi addicts.
Theatrical coin for this Fox Searchlight Pictures release remains limited in North America to that core audience. Film grossed more than $30 million in Russia, nearly doubling the $16 million take of the first film.
"Day Watch," written by Sergei Lukyanenko, Aleksandr Talal and Bekmambetov from a novel by Lukyanenko and Vladimir Vasiliev, begins in an identical manner as the previous film. It is explained all too quickly that a thousand-year truce exists between the forces of Light and Darkness. The Night Watch patrols the night, protecting mankind from the dark ones -- vampires, witches, shape-shifters and sorcerers. Conversely, the Day Watch keeps tabs on the forces of Light. According to prophecy, a powerful "Other" will enter the world and be tempted by the Dark side, thereby plunging the world into apocalypse.
Got that? Good, because this might be the last clear thing that you do get. In the Fox Searchlight release, this prologue is narrated in English. When the movie begins in earnest, the soundtrack reverts to the original Russian dialogue with jokey English-language subtitles that pop up in different areas of the screen, sometimes in different colors or hitting the screen in the exact cadence with which lines are delivered by actors.
The story kicks off with a conventional policier opening that finds paranormally gifted Night Watchman Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) patrolling with trainee Svetlana (Maria Poroshina). The two met in the first film and each now is secretly in love with the other. An attack on an old woman sends them rushing to the scene. Ignoring Anton's instructions, Svetlana pursues the perp into another dimension where trainees are forbidden.
Here two things get discovered: Svetlana has superior paranormal powers, tipping Anton off that she might be the long-awaited great Other. Second, the perp is none other than Anton's son, Yegor (Dima Martynov), who joined the Dark side in "Night Watch." Despite the fact they operate on opposite sides, Anton destroys evidence linking Yegor to the crime. By the way, Yegor is thought to be the Dark side's great Other.
The Dark forces accuse Anton of murder so he must go in disguise. In the movie's best gag, he and his comrade Olga (Galina Tyunina) switch bodies. Anton getting hot and heavy with Svetlana in Olga's body is a truly funny situation. The object at the center of everyone's pursuit is the Chalk of Fate with which the possessor can rewrite history. Other less successful subplots involve Yegor and his Dark mentor, Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky), and boy vampire Kostya (Aleksei Chadov) and his butcher dad (Valery Zolotukhin).
All this takes place in a whirlwind of impressive wild design, stunts, cinematography and editing that turns Moscow into a kind of postmodern/medieval backdrop for this clash between Light and Dark. The camera pulls back through the many stories of a highrise. Trucks meet head on with the smaller ripping through the entire interior of the larger, utterly destroying it. Modern battles contain ghosts of centuries-old battles. Characters pass through different dimensions in chases. The editing keeps things jumping from the first frame to the last.
"Day Watch" does dazzle and even at times amuse. But its imagination is limited. The backstory is shallow and pat. Its characters are mostly one-note. And everything goes on much too long at 133 minutes.
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Channel One Russia presents a Tabbak Film Co. and Bazelevs production
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Screenwriters: Sergei Lukyanenko, Aleksandr Talal, Timur Bekmambetov
Based on the novel by: Sergei Lukyanenko, Vladimir Vasiliev
Producers: Konstantin Ernst, Anatoly Maximov
Executive producers: Alexei Kublitsky, Varya Avdyushko
Director of photography: Sergei Trofimov
Production designers: Valery Viktorov, Mukhtar Mirzakeyev
Music: Yuri Poteyenko
Costume designer: Varya Avdyushko
Editor: Dmitri Kiselev
Anton: Konstantin Khabensky
Svetlana: Maria Poroshina
Geser: Vladimir Menshov
Zavulon: Viktor Verzhbitsky
Olga: Galina Tyunina
Yegor: Dima Martynov
Kostya: Aleksei Chadov
Running time -- 133 minutes
MPAA rating: R