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Review by Steve Rhodes
1½ stars out of 4
Serial killer movies are probably the easiest to get right. Formula
pictures, they can almost run on autopilot. Making an outstanding one, like
COPYCAT, of course, requires considerable skill and effort. In THE WATCHER,
by music video director Joe Charbanic, the pacing is so far off and the
editing is so haphazard that it is easy to forget what genre the movie is
supposed to belong to. It's not easy to make a dull serial killer movie,
but Charbanic has succeeded at least at that.
The lead detective in the case, Campbell (James Spader), mainlines drugs to
help him deal with his job-caused mental problems. He is derogatorily
referred to by his coworkers as "Captain Barbiturates" for his drug habit,
something that seems to affect the cast, whose lifeless acting make them all
appear to be on downers. Watching actors who look like they might fall
asleep at any moment can be rather sleep-inducing for an audience. Of
course, the movie is frequently so ridiculous that your own laughter may
keep you awake.
As the killer named Griffin, Keanu Reeves (THE MATRIX's poster boy) appears
a lot saner than the detective who is trailing him. Griffin is a loyal kind
of guy who brings his killing spree to Chicago when Campbell moves there.
Campbell, in long and excruciatingly boring scenes, bares his soul to his
psychiatrist, played with more wood than a Giant Sequoia by Marisa Tomei.
Griffith is a meticulous killer who watches his victims for weeks before
strangling them, typically in their homes. A student of forensics, he is
tough to catch. To give Campbell a better chance, Griffin starts FedExing
the pictures of his intended victims to Campbell, who, unfortunately, has a
bad habit of not opening his mail for days.
The movie's sparse dialog features such gems as: "Goodness gracious, nothing
like a good serial killer to kick off the holiday season." This leaves the
visuals to carry the movie, which they can't. Long lethargic sections of
film are interrupted briefly by hyperactive video segments. These grainy,
choppy, blurry video images look like they were shot on a cheap camcorder by
a drunk at a New Year's Eve Party.
The ludicrous aspects of the script by David Elliot and Clay Ayers are
almost endless, but let me mention just four: 1) They have a high quality
color picture of one victim, but the poster that they cover the town with
has such a low contrast black-and-white picture on it that you can't tell
that it was the same woman. 2) Campbell and Co. usually spend all day
looking for the victim and then find her just a few seconds too late. 3)
Detective Hollis (Chris Ellis) has a cell phone discussion with Campbell
while weaving in and out of traffic during a high-speed car chase. Campbell
offers to call him back, but, driving wildly with one-hand, Hollis says that
isn't necessary. 4) With the entire front-end of his car in three-foot-high
flames, Griffin drives it away rather than abandoning it or switching cars.
It is no wonder then that our audience was laughing at the picture on the
way out. When Campbell utters the movie's last line, "Time's up," my
immediate reaction was, "yes, but not nearly soon enough."
THE WATCHER runs 1:33. It is rated R for violence and language. Having
remarkably little gore and reasonably tame language, it would be acceptable
for most teenagers, but I would not recommend it to anyone.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes