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‘Nightwatch’ a vampire tale that stirs up a Red scare (sarah michelle gellar mention)

James Verniere

Wednesday 1 March 2006, by Webmaster

In Timur Bekmambetov’s “Nightwatch,” vampires and shape-shifters live among the humans in present-day Moscow.

It’s “Underworld: The Red Square Variations.” A phenomenon at home that’s spawning a blockbuster sequel, with a third installment in the works, the film combines post-Soviet malaise, post-9/11 apocalyptic jitters with images and themes from such genre films as “Underworld” and, believe it or not, “Ghostbusters.”

Occasionally uplifted by striking visual lyricism, such as a spellbound boy with crimson smoke pouring out of his eyes, “Nightwatch” is also long-winded and narratively clotted.

Its protagonists are “Others,” non-human beings who run the gamut from vampires to seers engaged in an eternal standoff between good and evil, a standoff that will soon be tipped in evil’s favor, as if anyone needed to tell us, by the appearance of an anti-Christ figure and world-shattering final battle.

Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky) is a seer whose job is to track vampires into a netherworld known as the Gloom, armed with a vampire-scorching flashlight, and fine them for unlawful behavior. In the course of a day’s work, he encounters a weirdly familiar looking boy (Dmitry Martynov) and a mysterious blonde (Mariya Poroshina) in the city’s labyrinthine subway system.

The blonde is cursed (aren’t they all?), and the boy is the one prophesied to give evil the advantage. Anton’s co-workers include Bear and Tiger Cub, vampire-busting shape-shifters in love who hurtle around Moscow in a rocket-powered yellow truck, and an owl named Olga (Galina Tyunina). Who ya gonna call?

On paper, this all sounds good, a Russian-flavored version of Francis Lawrence’s underrated 2005 hit “Constantine” featuring a particularly grimy, dysfunctional Moscow.

But the film’s characters either lack charisma or are not given a chance to make an impression, something we are especially reminded of when Bekmambetov shows us a clip of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy. “Nightwatch” is like “Constantine” with Shia LaBeouf in the lead instead of Keanu Reeves.

But the Kazakhstan-born writer-director, who adapted the novel by Sergei Lukyanenko, redeems himself in Mario Bava-esque scenes involving a disgruntled vampire in a ruined beauty salon. Shots of a cement-colored, Soviet-era high-rise surrounded by a swarm of batlike creatures suggested to me what the great Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski (“The Decalogue”) might have achieved had he lent his hand to this sort of thing.

But Bekmambetov overdoes the heavy-metal music, MTV-style editing and optical tricks. Let’s just say that the light-saber reference is a dead dog, even if it gets the fanboys hot and bothered. Bekmambetov is also far too fond of bodily fluids and bugs and has a bad case of voice-over logorrhea. This film’s plot could have compressed into a film half its two-hour length.

With a more coherent story and stronger characters, this “Watch” would have been so much more watchable.

(“Nightwatch” contains violence and grotesque images.)