Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Day Watch

Posted By on Wed, Jun 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM

When last we left Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) of the Night Watch, his estranged son, Yegor, decided to join the forces of the Dark after discovering Dad had tried to have him magically aborted after learning his wife had been unfaithful. Now a member of the same army Anton has sworn to fight against, the vengeful lad turns out be the Great One; a supernatural being who can help end the treaty between good and evil and usher in the apocalypse.

Luckily, Anton and his pals with the Light have rookie/girlfriend Sveta (Maria Poroshina), as their Great One counterpunch. Unfortunately, their blond bonita isn't ready to do battle, so off they go, in search of the Chalk of Life, a magical... well, piece of chalk that can alter history and restore balance.

As with last year's Night Watch, Russian writer-director Timur Bekmambetov throws so many offbeat and outlandish ideas at the screen you can't help but be impressed by the pure imagination of it all — even if you're beaten into submission by his obsessive need to stylize every moment with jarring edits, bullet-time effects, CG flourishes and tricked-out visuals. There's an ADD quality to his filmmaking that, unfortunately, never lets the complicated (as opposed to complex) plot breathe. The characters are as anonymous as ever and though they wail and rage with emotion we're disconnected from anything approaching sentiment. Coupled with the never-ending chain of supernatural elements, the story starts to feel like it's being made up as it goes. It's hard to decide if that's a byproduct of the film's Russian fairy tale inspiration or a mirror imaging of overly busy Hollywood blockbusters like Pirates Of the Caribbean and The Matrix.

Unlike Hollywood, however, Day Watch offers up enough outlandish surprises that you can forgive how ridiculous it all is. Whether it's a sports car driving along the face of an office building, a tinfoil yo-yo that shreds Moscow with its hate or gender body swap between Anton and another agent, Bekmambetov presents a kaleidoscope of impressively fantastical moments.

With a budget one-fifth the size of an American blockbuster, he stretches his resources to the breaking point, producing a cinematic experience that looks and feels huge. Part of that is due to his uncanny ability to suggest action without actually delivering it.

Amid all the teeth gnashing and war talk, much of Day Watch's armed conflict is impending rather than realized. The forces of Light and Dark never explode into battle but rather await sanction from a supernatural bureaucracy that could only be imagined by a Soviet culture. When clashes happen, Bekmambetov demonstrates that he still can't really shoot an action sequence. All quick flash edits and strobed stills, the scenes are all thunder and little coherence.

Still, the blurred sensory overload has a way of convincing you that you're seeing more than what's there.

If Day Watch and its predecessor Night Watch do one thing exceptionally well, it's cleverly transform their English subtitles into a visual experience rather than a necessary distraction. Bekmambetov's text splinters, explodes, hesitates and fractures in sync with each scene's actions, underlining the character's emotions and intent. It's a brilliant effect that other foreign films should adopt as soon as possible. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see Fellini's dialogue splat like paint against the wall or Lars Von Trier's breathy exchanges throb and pulse with innuendo? Leave it to a Russian sci-fi director to recognize that words need to be slapped around a little to impart their true meaning.

Showing at the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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