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Night Watch

Some films slowly develop cults. Others lend themselves to fanboy worship. Then there are movies like the new Russian sci-fi thriller Night Watch, which pretty much holds its audience at knifepoint and angrily demands a reverent following. Night Watch is already an international commercial success and a historic box-office smash in its native Russia, but that's less a testament to its quality than to its commercial calculation. Two Night Watch sequels are already planned (one in Russian, the other in English), which shouldn't come as a surprise since the film offers audiences not just a movie, but an entire universe to get lost in, complete with a Byzantine mythology stitched together from bits and pieces of thriving franchises like the Matrix trilogy, Star Wars, The X-Files, and Underworld.


The film begins with an abortion conducted via black magic; that ends badly, leading hapless protagonist Konstantin Khabensky into a shadowy nighttime world of "Others," some good and some evil. Dark Others feast on the blood of the living as vampires, while Light Others function as the bureaucrats and cops of the supernatural realm, issuing vampire licenses and punishing transgressions. But while the notion of vampires applying for licenses—no doubt to be filled out in triplicate, then ratified by a notary public—lends itself to comedy, Night Watch is for the most part dour, another unfortunate trait it shares with the Matrix movies. At least during its kinetic early sequences, the filmmakers drolly juxtapose the otherworldly weirdness of its mythology with the grim practical realities of its grubby, post-Communist Russian setting.

Then, unfortunately, the exposition begins and never really ends. Night Watch lurches between breathless, super-slick action sequences and talky scenes that laboriously establish various prophecies, a "Vortex," a possible apocalypse, a Christ figure or two, and all sorts of other crap sure to be explored in the sequels and ancillary products. The filmmakers don't seem to realize that if a movie with a mythology this groan-inducingly convoluted doesn't have a sense of humor about itself, the laughs are going to come anyway. They just won't be of the intentional variety.

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