‘Matrix’ with a vodka chaser

  • Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, February 23, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

For the last couple of years movie people have been talking about a Russian sci-fi epic that blew the doors off the Russian film industry and supposedly trumped the “Matrix” movies for sheer crazy fun. Now it’s finally here.

“Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor)” certainly lives up to its reputation for high-octane attitude, and in fact it did become a smash hit at the Russian box office, single-handedly revitalizing that troubled industry. The sequel has already been released in Russia and the third part of the trilogy, to be shot in English, is in preparation.

The audience in this country that supports Hong Kong action and Japanese horror films should enjoy “Night Watch,” but the film may inspire as much head-scratching as accolades.

The story is pretty much boilerplate for a fantasy epic. There are forces of good and evil, which have entered a thousand-year truce. Those in the secret employ of the Night Watch are keeping tabs on vampires and witches. Meanwhile, the Day Watch monitors “the forces of Light,” although why the forces of Light need to be monitored is not clear, because you’d think they are nice guys.

A “chosen one” is born in Moscow in the 1990s, an event that will bring about a new war. The sequence around this event is the nuttiest and most inventive of the movie, involving a bizarre concoction and a puppet that sprouts spider legs and shape-shifters who look like tiger ladies.

Confusing: Hugely popular Russian production, the first film in a sci-fi trilogy, about forces of good and evil breaking a thousand-year truce in current Moscow. Some good apocalyptic visions, but confusing and derivative. (In Russian, with English subtitles.)

Rated: R rating is for violence, nudity

Now showing: Neptune, Uptown

A Night Watch operative, Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), drinks blood like the vampires he hunts, which is important for reasons I never understood. He kills a Day Watch rival, which upsets the balance of the truce and precipitates much of the subsequent action, climaxing in a vortex overtaking Moscow.

All of this good vs. evil with a longstanding truce may well be analogous to the Cold War, but my head hurts if I think about it too long. “Night Watch” has clearly learned important lessons from “The Matrix” and “The Lord of the Rings” and any number of jazzy TV commercials.

The whole thing is dark and dank and filled with empty warehouses. Even with the borrowings from other sources, it’s very Russian. (Speaking of which, kudos to the U.S. distributor for maintaining the original language – the subtitles themselves are wacky and clever.)

Director Timur Bekmambetov gets some wild images, including the transformation of an owl into a woman and the instant darkening of Moscow during a blackout. Cultists will want to seek out “Night Watch” to see what the buzz is, but it’s hard to justify the fuss.

“Night Watch” includes a puppet that sprouts spider legs.

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