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Day Watch

Uneven Russian Fantasy/Horror Sequel

Billed as the “second chapter in the epic fantasy trilogy,” Day Watch ("Dnevnoy dozor"), directed by Timur Bekmambetov from a screenplay co-written with novelist Sergei Lukyanenko is less the middle film in a trilogy than the conclusion to a two-part story that began with Night Watch, a fantasy/horror/action film released three years ago in Russia and Europe to critical acclaim and positive box office returns.

Made for $4.2 million, Night Watch outpaced big budget Hollywood releases to garner the top stop in Russia in 2004. The sequel, Day Watch did even better, bringing in $30 million for its producers. With its mix of convoluted, multiple subplots, hyper-realistic settings, fantasy elements, and special effects, Day Watch may have almost as many negatives as it does positives, but that’s unlikely to deter fans of Night Watch from giving the sequel a chance.

Day Watch opens with a recap of Night Watch. For millennia Others -- wizards, witches, vampires, and shapeshifters -- have lived among us. The Light Others stand on the side of Good and the Dark Others stand on the side of Evil. More than six hundred years ago, the Light and Dark Others agreed to a truce. Their respective leaders, Geser (Vladimir Menshov) and Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky), created the Night Watch and the Day Watch. The Night Watch polices the Dark Others. The Day Watch polices the Light Others. Anyone caught breaking the truce is subjected to severe punishment by the Inquisition, up to and including death and banishment into the Gloom, a shadow world parallel to our own that Others can enter temporarily but at great physical and emotional cost.

When we last saw Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), a Light Other on the Night Watch, his son, Yegor (Dmitry Martynov), a Great Other with almost limitless power over the physical and supernatural worlds, rejected Anton and apprenticed himself with Zavulon and the Dark Side. Luckily, the Light Others found a Great Other of their own, Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina), a young woman who, by cursing herself, almost ushered in a local apocalypse. If Yegor and Svetlana meet through chance or coincidence and duel, they will bring about a full-blown apocalypse. Gesser assigns Anton to train Svetlana. On patrol, Anton and Svetlana discover a Dark Other breaking the truce and feeding on a human. They give chase into the Gloom, only to lose the Dark Other.

Anton ends up divided between the Light Others and his son, leaving him uncertain how to proceed when he discovers the identity of the Dark Other. Anton’s problems are compounded when two Dark Others are murdered, presumably by a truce-breaking Light Other. All evidence points to Anton. While he evades the Inquisition’s judgment and Zavulon’s forces, including a powerful sorceress, Alisa (Zhanna Friske), with a fetish for gaudy couture, red sports cars, and young vampires, Anton decides his future lies in finding the mystically empowered Chalk of Fate. Once owned by Tamerlane, the 14th-century Mongol/Turkic conqueror, the Chalk of Fate allows whoever possesses it a chance to undo their fate (not, unfortunately, the fate of others). With the help of Gesser’s lover, Olga (Galina Tyunina), Anton travels to Samarkand to retrieve the Chalk of Fate.

Like Night Watch, Day Watch excels visually. Bekmambetov has an eye for the seedily beautiful in modern-day, run-down Russia. Moscow might be seemingly on the verge of collapse thanks to an array of contradictory economic, social, and political forces, but the city also reflects the chaotic dynamism that marks the “new”, post-communist Russia. As such, Moscow is the perfect location for the next apocalypse.

Bekmambetov’s shooting and editing style is equally chaotic, equally dynamic. It might bear a close resemblance to mainstream Hollywood and its over-reliance on MTV-style shooting and editing to attract young filmgoers, but there’s no denying Bekmambetov’s skills behind the camera. The action set pieces are cleanly, unobtrusively shot and edited. Sequences that rely on effects also look good, almost Hollywood-quality good (again points to Bekmambetov and his collaborators for their ingenuity).

Where Day Watch, like Night Watch falters, is story wise. With a densely plotted, convoluted storyline that leans heavy on exposition (that still leaves a lot unsaid), too many characters and too many subplots, Day Watch becomes a chore to follow. The Others’ powers are never clearly delineated, the backstories and backgrounds for new supporting characters are left unexplored, and, in a sign that Bekmambetov and Bekmambetov have picked up more than a stray Western influence from genre television, films, or even comic books, they cop out when it comes to the ending.

Sure we get the obligatory apocalypse (as much as the budget will allow), but when all is said and done, Day Watch ends with a whimper that apparently precludes the main characters here appearing in the third chapter in the trilogy.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars