If the extremely loud and silly Night Watch is Russia’s cannonball plunge into the piss-warm pool of big-budget fantasy spectacle (it’s been a huge smash there, breaking attendance records), then the future of Russian cinema looks a lot like...Highlander. We Americans are obviously spoiled: Every week there seems to be some new flick about bodacious vampires kicking ass to steroidal dance music. In the former U.S.S.R., though, such offerings were a luxury—until now. Welcome to the machine, comrades.
Based on the riotously popular novels by Sergei Lukyanenko, Night Watch pits the supernatural forces of “light” and “dark” in a centuries-old battle over the souls of human folk. The war is fought with sword and sharp incisor; refereeing are the “others,” including Anton (Khabensky) and his dour assistant, Olga (Tunina), who often takes the form of an owl.
Modern-day Moscow, swirling with hordes of Eurotrash and digitally rendered crows, looks like nothing more than the glittering, faintly unreal downtown of Los Angeles, while Bekmambetov directs actors into poses rather than performances. He’s got a sequel in the can, and Fox is putting up money for a third. It’s impossible not to add that at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, audiences could have seen a nightmarish Russian film called 4, directed by Ilya Khrjanovsky, that produces more futuristic shivers on the cheap than all of Night Watch’s rubles combined. That film has yet to be distributed. (Opens Fri; Landmark Sunshine Cinema.)—Joshua Rothkopf