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June 6th, 2007 ALISTAIR ROCKOFF | Movie Reviews & Stories
 

Kremlins 2: The New Batch

Putin on the ritzy effects in a vampiric Russia.

     
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Ridiculous as the Russian fantasy sequel Day Watch is, it will make even less sense to those who missed its predecessor, Night Watch. Not that anything here is designed to be remembered: As it follows the peculiar fatherhood issues of a weary vampire hunter named Anton, this darkly modern high-grosser measures the moviegoer's attention span at about 10 seconds. The struggle in modern Moscow between Anton's do-gooder team, the Night Watch, and their vampire foes, the Day Watch, is rendered as a nonstop barrage of colorfully surreal effects, like X-Men except with fewer physical rules and more diplomacy. Everyone in the movie seems able to do anything, from stopping a bus head on to switching genders, so instead of fighting, the heroes spend most of the time trying to preserve an ancient truce. The characters chase each other through shadow realms, shifting shape and destroying property. As action, it can be oddly unsatisfying, but it's also a nice alternative to the recent American penchant for tiresome comic-book brawls, and at least there's a goofy soap opera woven into all the mindless computer-generated excess.

The first film began with Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) almost aborting his son via witchcraft and ended with the grown-up boy joining the bad guys. In the new movie, Anton tries to reconcile his feelings for the kid and for pretty colleague Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina) while searching for the coveted "chalk of fate" and being framed for vampire murder. It's all nonsense, and I hate to allegorize what is essentially a series of particularly daffy Super Bowl commercials, but the heroes' struggle to prevent an age-old war does evoke a desire for solidarity between Old Russia and New Russia. After all, the good guys' HQ is a Soviet-era light company, while the bad guys hang out in a swank, new-money hotel. Caught in the middle (quite literally) is Anton, a young Russian striving to take responsibility for his own destiny and that of his offspring, in a nation where everyone looks up to an all-powerful strongman, whether state or corporate. By the end of the movie, there's even a kind of queasy collusion between Anton's gruffly kind leader and the vampires' oily, mischievous boss, as if Lenin and Putin were shaking hands over the future of their dutiful followers.

It's disappointing that a Russian film had to regurgitate the most commercially vulgar American genre tropes to get a release here, and in the end, Day Watch is almost as disjointed and stupid as the new Pirates of the Caribbean threequel, with acting that is no less leaden and bored. But Day Watch is a half-hour shorter, and the frenetic visual energy of the thing should make it perfect junk food for the video-game generation. Sensation-hungry teenagers will eat it right up, while the rest of us will have to subsist on the pure weirdness. I'll never watch Day Watch again, but I did appreciate bearing witness to a drunken birthday bash interrupted by a herd of yo-yos (not to mention the impressive selection of fur hats). But it bears repeating that without seeing the first film you'll be lost, especially at the finale, so start by renting Night Watch, or hitting the vodka hard.


Day Watch is rated R. It opens Friday, June 8, at Cinema 21.
 
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