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The Watcher

Starring James Spader, Marisa Tomei, Ernie Hudson and Keanu Reeves
Screenplay by David Elliot and Clay Ayers
Based on a story by Darcy Meyers and David Elliot
Directed by Joe Charbanic

IN SHORT: Non-starting thriller. [Rated R for violence and language.]

The Killer is good. He knows forensics and police procedures. He picks his targets weeks in advance. Follows them. Records their habits in a notebook. Breaks into their apartments just to surveil. When it is time to kill, he waits. Eleven kills later, FBI agent Joel Campbell (James Spader) is an emotional and physical wreck. No one knows who the killer is or what he looks like -- it could be the guy standing next to him in the elevator. So he quits the case in LA and moves to Chicago, living on disability and a fistful of pills.

"It's cold here. But at least it's not New Jersey" says The Killer, when he follows his bestest friend to Chicago and picks up his career in the windy city. We appreciate the director Joe Charbanic didn't go the slice 'n' dice route in his film, choosing to emulate Hitchcock (good choice). He reveals The Killer's identity (Keanu Reeves, for a change not delivering a role with a blank slate for a face) and sets up a real one way co-dependent relationship; the basis for a psychological battle perfectly suited to a Hitchcock like premise. Agent Campbell doesn't want to join the case again, but The Killer knows where he is and is sending pictures of the next victim. He even calls the Agent on the phone to offer a deal: you find the girl by 9 pm and she'll live. On paper, it's a terrific idea as a suspense builder. On film, it doesn't come off as anything more than hundreds of cops handing out leaflets. When the film tries to up the ante by sending Agent Campbell after The Killer without backup, we walk into a cinematic Fantasyland where story logic is tossed in favor of buried secrets and all that nonsense. Marisa Tomei is wasted as the psychotherapist central to the endgame of the story, which fails to break any new waves, thriller-wise.

There are two one fatal flaws in the script and, since the film studio held this back from the reviewers -- they know a non-starter, too -- we're hiding that behind a SPOILER. Drag your cursor over the white space below:

Remember how we mentioned that the film establishes that no one knows The Killer's identity or looks? At one point in the middle of the film Agent Campbell refers to The Killer as "Griffin," which means they do know and, considering the long run of kills and police work done in Los Angeles, they probably know what he looks like. A flashback reveals that, indeed, Campbell has seen the dude face to face. You can fathom a guess as to why he doesn't spill, based on what happens towards the end, but we don't believe it.

On a purely aesthetic note, the score gets in the way. With lots of smoke and searchlights and night shooting, this could have been a music video. Only a slow paced editing style keeps it out of that bin.

The studio was wise to keep us away. A simple analysis of the script would have caught the error. Of course, if they hadn't, I wouldn't have resorted to a Spoiler and would have come up with a clever piece of writing. It's Friday. The film's out. There's no time.

Makes me kind of like a victim . . .

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Watcher, he would have paid...


midweek rental level, if only to see Reeves doing something different.

amazon com link Click to buy films by Joe Charbanic
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