Any kid in Filmmaking 101 knows that the easiest thing to shoot, and have it hold an audience's attention, is a chase scene. Almost every movie ever made contains some form of a chase scene, and it can be fun to pick it out in every genre of film.
But debut feature director Joe Charbanic (music video director for Keanu Reeves' band Dogstar) dilutes any hope for captivating cinematic entertainment in The Watcher by beating this otherwise innocent cinematic device until there is nothing left. People run, cars chase, helicopters search, and somewhere along the way a suspense movie pretends to happen.
It doesn't help matters that Keanu Reeves, as David Allen Griffin, insists on crystallizing his worst-actor-in-Hollywood title by playing a serial killer about as menacing as a sleeper sofa. And James Spader (sex, lies and videotape) comes off more as a desperate actor in search of a script than as Joel Campbell, a drug addled F.B.I. agent hot on Griffin's trail.
The Watcher is a textbook study in oversights that music video directors make in directing poorly written feature films, the most grievous disregard being the choice of script. Joel pours out tons of weakly disguised exposition to his unskilled therapist Polly (Marisa Tomei). The therapy session dialogue is so slanted toward Joel gabbing about his tortured life of tracking an elusive serial killer that Joel should be the one interviewing Polly.
Charbanic leverages the shrink/patient relationship for much more than it's worth, then blows his only shot at an even marginal movie by failing to produce compelling visuals and refusing to mix up the rhythm of the story. Every labored flashback feels like two giant rusty cogs turning so that the audience can get yet another glimpse of Keanu in black leather, threatening to break out of his notoriously flat-line readings.
It's hard to believe that Reeves has actually worked in a movie with Al Pacino (The Devil's Advocate), a master of vocal inflection, and didn't learn a single thing from the experience. The only real question is how many movies Keanu Reeves will be cast in before casting directors realize that not only does the emperor have no clothes, he hasn't even got the energy to sit on a float in the parade. When Keanu does a victory jig to some metal-grunge music before squatting down with his fingers stuck against his temples like little Satanic horns, it's so laughably bad that you want to write a letter.
Spader keeps his focus strong, but can't help seeming like a weakened Atlas trying to carry the weight of the world on his exhausted shoulders. The weathered Marisa Tomei looks like an aging ingenue pulled out of some community theater production and given her first film role. Tomei cheats her psychiatrist role as Polly by evoking a damaged girlish quality that begs for another, more experienced actress to come along and relieve her of the burden of acting.
No stars for this lame attempt at stylish suspense and psychological voyeurism.
Note: this film review originally ran in the Colorado Springs Independent in 2000.