Given the prevailing wisdom that American moviegoers would rather do time than submit to a movie with subtitles, it's hard to decide whether Fox Searchlight is brave, foolish or a pioneer of globalized aesthetics for snapping up this Russian horror fantasy, a coming sequel, and a third chapter to be developed by Fox together with a Russian television network. Directed with frantic lan by Timur Bekmamvetov (who cut his teeth on music videos and commercials) from a best-selling sci-fi novel by Sergei Lukyanenko, Night Watch—a Sin City for hipster Slavs pitting the age-old forces of Light and Darkness against one another on the streets of a vibrantly menacing early-1990s Moscow—was a runaway local hit that out-grossed The Lord of the Rings and yanked post-Soviet cinema out of its slump. How it will fare here probably depends on how many pimply juniors are willing to fork out for this Dostoyevskian tale, influenced in incongruously equal measure by Eisenstein and Tarantino, of a Muscovite—a vampire, but in a good way—tortured by his long-ago betrayal of a girlfriend and her unborn baby.
Night Watch fritters away its first hour in agonizingly self-reflexive visual pyrotechnics so arch and incoherent, it feels like one of those urban TV ads that leave you in the dark about what they're selling till the last five seconds: I fully expected one of the vampires or virgins who keep popping out of nowhere to flash a MasterCard and scream, "Kreditkardski Citibankski—leev reechly." In the final act, the movie dons a more human face and commits to an absorbing tale of crime and punishment, albeit pushing the fatigued message that you can't always tell light from dark these days. Not to draw spurious parallels nor nuffink, but was Comrade Putin spotted at the premiere, and who did he root for? (Edwards University, Irvine)