The Watcher


Keanu Reeves has a love affair with his gun.

Keanu Reeves has a love affair with his gun.

(2000) Thriller (Universal) James Spader, Marisa Tomei, Keanu Reeves, Ernie Hudson, Chris Ellis, Robert Cicchini, Yvonne Niami, Jennifer McShane, Gina Alexander, Rebekah Louise Smith, Joseph Sikora, Jillian Peterson, Michelle Dimaso, Andrew Rothenberg, David Pasquesi, Dana Kozlov, Butch Jerinic, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Rebekah Arthur. Directed by Joe Charbanic

Sometimes, in searching for deeper meanings in a motion picture, we lose sight of the fact that most movies are meant to be just plain fun, and have no ambitions further than that. Of course, there are also the movies that don’t even achieve those modest yet not inconsequential goals.

In this film, Joel Campbell (Spader) is a burned out FBI agent suffering from horrible migraines and worse nightmares. He was chasing a serial killer in Los Angeles, two years prior to when the main plot of this movie commences, getting very close. But as a result of his single-minded pursuit, a woman was burned to death. Haunted by those memories, he is gradually shutting himself away from the world, taking refuge in a squalid apartment in a new city (Chicago), existing on pills and bad Vietnamese food.

But his old pal from Los Angeles (]Reeves) has tracked him down and is up to his old tricks, namely murdering young women. Just to entice Campbell back into the game, he is sending the ex-agent photographs of his potential victims and giving him 24 hours to keep the murder from occurring. A rather predictable cat and mouse game ensues.

Spader was in the midst of taking an abrupt u-turn in his career, going from roles that are rather callow and awkward (Sex, Lies and Videotape) to becoming a surly action hero, in movies like this one and Supernova. Quite frankly, the roles don’t suit him. The soft-spoken Spader comes off nearly as messed up as the killer he’s chasing. Instead of being hard-bitten, he seems merely neurotic. Since then he’s found himself a niche playing the delightfully arch criminal mastermind Red Reddington on the new TV show The Blacklist. Villainy seems to be more his thing.

Then there’s Keanu. A scene early on (which is repeated near the movie’s conclusion) shows oh-so-cool Keanu dancing, gun in hand, to a throbbing industrial beat. It’s quite a pose, and really sums up everything I don’t like about the guy. Not only is his range limited, but he comes off as shallow and self-serving, which roles like this only amplify. Sadly, his limitations haven’t improved much over the years.

Going for The Watcher are some genuinely tense moments when Keanu’s prey is being stalked (and Keanu, mercifully, is off-screen) as time runs out. Also the presence of two of my favorite actors: Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinnie) and Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) help matters though neither one is given nearly enough to do. Fortunately, both of them make regular appearances both on the big and small screens and in much better productions.

The Watcher has moments, but not many. Stylish rather than substantive, the film settles for trying to look hip and appealing to a less-than-discerning audience. If you have higher standards than the average slack-jawed hipster, you should have the sense to skip this one as most did. If you run into it in your Netflix queue, just keep on running.

WHY RENT THIS: You don’t have anything better to do and you’re really, really high.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Keanu. Reeves.

FAMILY MATTERS: Violence, some of it grisly, and a fair amount of cussing.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Initially the movie was titled Driven but the studio changed it after Sylvester Stallone announced he was making an auto racing movie of the same name.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47.3M on a $30M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Manhunter

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Little Accidents