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The Watcher

Just Watchable

By Chaitra Chandrasekhar

Directed by Joe Charbanic

Story by Darcy Meyers and David Elliot

Screenplay by David Elliot and Clay Ayers

Starring Keanu Reeves, Marisa Tomei, James Spader, and Ernie Hudson

Rating R

A serial killer out on the streets, single women murdered, a cop-obsessed killer -- Formulaic? Familiar? Even if it isn’t, it will certainly feel that way if you sit through The Watcher. Drawing on a variety of potentially interesting topics -- including murderers driven to kill by investigations and investigators, and the facelessness of people in a city -- but not developing them, The Watcher is a movie that has neither suspense, special effects, depth or ... anything else.

In the movie, Keanu Reeves stars as David Allen Griffin, a serial killer who watches his victims and then strikes. FBI agent Joel Campbell (James Spader) retires early and moves to Chicago only to find that the obsessed Griffin has followed him to the Windy City. Then starts the game (repeated three times with slight variations) where Campbell gets twelve hours to find the next victim with just a photograph to go on. The city-wide chases invariably (and predictably) end in perfect murders. The suspense is not unmanageable, even when you’re hating the movie. The final installment of this vise-tightening involves Spader’s psychologist, Marisa Tomei in a terrible role.

A trite plot and trashed storyline drag The Watcher into a tedious, hard-to-watch movie. The ludicrousness of this ostensible thriller gives it a farcical feel. This movie is on par with other run-of-the-mill serial killer movies of late, including The Bone Collector, Copycat, and Kiss the Girls. If you haven’t had your fill of stalkers and serial killers, then this is for you.

Keanu Reeves’s not-even-mediocre performance in this badly written and directed role is complemented by a matching one by Marisa Tomei. Oscar-winner Tomei, looking very middle-aged, gives a lackluster performance as Polly, the psychiatrist who realizes the obsession and suspects that the cop needs the killer as much as the killer needs him. Her performance is a complete let-down. As for Reeves’s, maybe he should stick to non-speaking, bullet-dodging, special effects-loaded roles. Spader is one cut above the listless Marisa and the stilted Keanu but is still unable to enliven his role, though he does contribute his usual intensity.

Joe Charbanic, the director, is a first-timer who made some music videos for Keanu Reeves’s band, Dogstar, and a lot of the movie would look fine in a music video. Perhaps Charbanic was making a desperate attempt to subtly capture Matrix’s technical brilliance: The Watcher is flooded with a lot of digital regalia. This must have been done with the view that a still-born sequence can be salvaged by pepping it up artificially. Unfortunately, the trick failed because of the moribund screenplay, story, and actors and actresses.

The movie presumably exists because Reeves wanted to play a junior Hannibal Lecter, which is why it’s somewhat surprising he doesn’t try to do more with the role. Outside of a few peculiar dance moves (digitally altered in such a way as to suggest covering up for Reeves’s lack of physical aptitude), Keanu doesn’t go especially far out, or gamble in any way with the material. Apparently just casting himself as a villain is supposed to be interesting in itself, except that it’s not.

Filled with newcomers in the production department, the movie does not exude beginners’ brilliance. The story is by Darcy Meyers and David Elliot and the screenplay is by David Elliot and Clay Ayers. Meyers has worked on “Wind on Water,” a TV series, and Elliot (Nothing Sacred) and Ayers (Sword of Honour) have written a movie each. The cinematography is one of the aspects of the movie that is not criticizable.

Go for an evening -- or rather an afternoon at a lower price (and risk still not getting value for your money) -- with no expectations and you might be satisfied. This movie is a perfect example of one in which the trailer, website, and promotionals far exceed the movie itself. If you are going to the movie only to watch Keanu Reeves, watching Matrix would be a better idea. If you are going for the interesting topics that it tried to explore, look hard and you might just find it.