“Day Watch” – A.J. Hakari

A parrot that turns into a human and rides around in a limo. A yo-yo with the power to destroy a major city. A piece of chalk with the power to rewrite history. These bizarre elements (and many, many more) help form the kaleidoscope of crazy that is Day Watch. It’s only reasonable that this Russian fantasy epic is as insane as it is, considering that its predecessor, Night Watch, was the sort of feature with so much on its plate in terms of story, it shrugged off the Apocalypse in the same way that Tokyo kind of shuffles chronic Godzilla attacks under the rug.

Day Watch plunks viewers right back into the middle of director Timur Bekmambetov’s world of the Others, a collection of various supernatural beings that has split into the Light and Dark factions. Our story begins as Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), a Light Other, is scambling to cover up the tracks of his son Yegor (Dima Martynov), a youngster who turned to the Dark at the end of the first film and is now attacking humans without provocation. But a bigger problem soon surfaces when a Dark Other is found murdered, and all of the evidence points to Anton as the culprit. Such an incident is all that the Dark needs to break their centuries-old truce with the Light, leading Anton and his colleagues to ponder the possibility that he’s being framed as part of a complex grab for power. In any case, Anton is forced to go on the run to prove his innocence, the key to putting an end to all the chaos lying with the Chalk of Fate, an unassuming object which gives its user the ability to change his or her destiny forever.

If both Watch flicks have proved anything, it’s that the world could use a little of whatever the Russians are apparently smoking. There’s hardly another reasonable explanation as to why they’ve gobbled up these tales like candy (popular to the point of Night Watch having outgrossed the last Lord of the Rings film in its native country), while the rest of the world is still trying to discern who’s who. I have to hand it to Day Watch for at least coming across as a little more straightforward than its predecessor. With most of the story’s background and mythology already established in the first movie, Bekmambetov is given the opportunity to get down to business and launch the characters into another funkalicious flight of fantasy. Whether or not Night gleaned any of your emotional investment will be a good indicator of how much Day will enthrall you, so for those who thought the former was a trippy but diverting walk in the park, the latter delivers more of the same. This wouldn’t be so bad, a similar setup of bizarre visuals set against an epic battle of good versus evil that gets to the point faster, except that instead of confusing the audience with a complex mythos, Day Watch confuses by way of playing a game of Hot Potato with the plot.

At any given moment, the story switches from being a noirish murder mystery (that has Anton’s soul transferred into the body of a female Other for some damned reason) to a drama centered on Anton’s attempts to be a good father and again to a hunt for the Chalk of Fate. When Bekmambetov sticks to a plot thread, he gets a good bit of mileage and entertainment out of it, but his habit of jumping around from sub-genre to sub-genre gets to be more than a little irritating, especially when the running time is prolonged to an exhausting two and a half hours by even more subplots that have about as much of a point as the chance a Chris Farley movie has of being picked up by the Criterion Collection. A lot of this is done for the sake of displaying the franchise’s trademarked trippiness, but trust me when I say that when you’ve seen one sports car drive along the side of a skyscraper, you’ve seen them all.

I didn’t have a dreadful time watching Day Watch, as Bekmambetov kept me involved thanks to some inventive effects, an ambitious spirit, and a sort of shabby, lived-in environment that suits the world of the Light Others just perfectly. But although this film and its big brother Night were homeland blockbusters, perhaps the key to making the planned third Watch picture an international success is cut out the thematic fat in a big way, delivering a lean, mean, hallucinatory machine.

 

Rating: ★★½☆

 

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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