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Movies
'Watcher, The'

'The Watcher' is yet another throwaway serial killer thriller

Friday, September 08, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Watching "The Watcher," I thought about Court TV's soon-to-debut "Confessions," a half-hour program featuring videotaped confessions of actual killers. "Confessions" has been criticized for not providing any context or insights, and that is the same problem with this cat-and-mouse thriller.

 
   
'The Watcher'


RATING: R for violence and language.

STARRING: James Spader, Keanu Reeves

DIRECTOR: Joe Charbanic

WEB SITE: www.thewatcher
movie.com

CRITIC'S CALL: 2 stars

 
 

Keanu Reeves is a serial killer because ... well, we never really learn the answer to that question although it's clear he enjoys his warped, wicked ways with piano wire. We do learn that he gets a perverse thrill from telegraphing his plans to an FBI agent named Joel Campbell (James Spader), who is currently living on disability in Chicago and seeing a therapist (Marisa Tomei).

The agent suffers from migraines, high blood pressure, forgetfulness and an inability to clean his apartment or open his mail in timely fashion. That even applies to FedEx envelopes which, it turns out, contain photos of lonely, single women targeted by David Allen Griffin (Reeves).

Campbell, who had encountered the killer's horrendous handiwork in Los Angeles, is drawn back to the job. Working with the FBI and Chicago Police (Chris Ellis does a nice turn as a cop named Hollis), he tries to identify and locate the doomed women before the killer strikes.

As Campbell perceptively explains to the psychologist, he apparently has become part of the ritual. As he so glibly puts it: "I'm building an excellent fan base with the homicidal set." Or something to that effect.

Griffin keeps upping the ante in his contact with the agent and those around him. Life and death nearly come full circle, as Griffin tries to re-create a California calamity.

"The Watcher" is the work of first-time director Joe Charbanic, who made a name producing music videos for Soul Asylum, Slash, Sonic Youth and a band called Dogstar featuring Keanu Reeves. Many scenes feel like elongated videos -- loud music, choppers descending on the darkened city, atmosphere and action galore.

But the heart of the story is allowed to wither. "The Watcher" never probes Campbell's life as a profiler and why such agents are prone to breakdowns. It never lets us inside Griffin's sick head.

The writers drop in factoids (borrowed from an actual agent on the set) about the prevalence of serial killers in Chicago and the Midwest. They rely on flashy flashbacks instead of actual storytelling and never let the tension crackle between agent and prey. The subtext about the impersonal nature of the city is buried.

If Court TV ever decides to program movies in between the real-life confessions, this exercise would be perfect.



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