Who Needs Plot?

'Day Watch' offers fantastic special effects and subtitles, but seems like it was written by a hyperactive 12-year-old

Day Watch is the second installment of the Russian-produced horror franchise that began with Night Watch and will be followed shortly by Twilight Watch, which just shows that if you start with a binary opposition in your title, the third film in your trilogy is gonna sound especially stupid.

If you didn't see Night Watch, you're not going to understand a lot of Day Watch. Then again, if you did see Night Watch, there's no guarantee you'll understand Day Watch. Also, notably, most of Day Watch happens at night.

That's only one of myriad plot elements that make it clear that Russians let hyperactive 12-year-olds write, direct and produce movies.

The plot is both incredibly complex and tremendously simplistic: A long time ago, immortals roamed the Earth, and the forces of Evil fought the forces of Good to a standstill. I think this is one of the film's main flaws: It's never explained why Good and Evil are fighting each other. Why can't Good and Evil just get along? What, exactly, is Evil's beef with Good? Since this is the major conflict on which the convoluted story hangs, it seems like it would be worth including at least a moment of expository dialogue, or an opening scroll that says, "A long time ago, Good got Evil's little sister drunk and felt her up."

Anyway, thousands of years ago, there was a truce, and the next thing you know, it's the 21st century, and the king of Evil is wearing a 1980s-style track suit zipped down to reveal his gold chains. In fact, if Day Watch is to be believed, everyone in Russia dresses like they shop at the Pimp and Ho's section of K-mart.

Meanwhile, a child is born who will be the most powerful immortal ever. Unfortunately, his dad, Anton, who worked for Good, accepted a no-bid contract from Evil in order to curse the boy's adulterous mother, which doesn't seem like a very good thing to do, but the whole Good/Evil thing is kind of fuzzy here anyway.

Due in part to the curse, the boy's mother gains custody and decides to raise the boy as Evil. Meanwhile, Anton works for "Night Watch," which is the police wing of the forces of Good. They patrol the night in order to catch unregistered members of the forces of Evil. So they're kind of like the Minutemen, only slightly creepier and more immortal.

Then Anton falls in love with his apprentice, and they have lesbian sex, even though Anton is technically a man. Meanwhile, in Evil Town, Anton's son gets a tinfoil yo-yo with the power to destroy herring, or something, and then people drink blood out of juice boxes and yell at butchers, and then a lot of stuff blows up. Seriously, a lot. I don't think I've ever seen that much stuff blow up before. It's like watching Dick Cheney's coronary arteries when he's being deposed by Congress.

I could spend six or seven pages recounting the plot, but I thought my friend Carey Burtt summed it up best when he said, "I didn't know what was going on, and I didn't care."

Too bad, because Day Watch is all about plot. In fact, the final sequence is an attempt to sum up the plots of the last two movies, and if you missed the first one, it's going to seem especially pointless. Then again, the entire first movie seemed kind of pointless.

Let me lay out the upside of this franchise, though, because in many ways, it's brilliant: First of all, as in the previous film, the subtitles are superb. Instead of just sitting at the bottom of the screen, they shimmer in ghostly sequences, leap about during frenetic sequences and turn red when anyone mentions death.

But even better--and I wish more movies did this--if the final word in a sentence is particularly important, the subtitle freezes and waits for the character speaking to catch up, so that the word and the actor's expression are in sync. So kudos to Day Watch on that innovation.

Also, visually, it's an interesting film. Since the immortals are supposed to have mystic powers, there are lots of trippy effects by visual effects master Pavel Perepyolkin. Among the best sequences are one where a parrot transforms into a human, the feathers sucking painfully into his skin. Also, there's a great driving-a-car-on-the-side-of-a-building sequence. I know there are a lot of these in film now, but this is easily the best ever, because the car then enters the building and parallel parks.

So if films were judged on the quality of their special effects and subtitles, Day Watch would be a sure-fire Oscar winner. Since the Academy has not yet accepted my suggestion to make these the sole criteria for awards, I fear Day Watch may not receive the critical praise it's due, as critics still value things like "intelligent plotting" and "acting that doesn't seem like it's based on a Looney Tunes cartoon." Someday, though, such antiquated standards will finally be overthrown, and we'll see nothing but digitally enhanced porn for preteens. Until that day arrives, we can tide ourselves over with Day Watch.

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