The Watcher (Joe Charbanic/Keff Jensen, 2000)
[originally posted 7Mar2001]
This movie disappeared from theaters quick, and now I know why. Despite a fairly good performance from Keanu Reeves, who goes back to the days of playing the disaffected sociopaths that made him great (River’s Edge, Permanent Record), this film straddles the line between confusion and predictability with a deftness I’ve rarely seen even from the most incompetent veteran directors. Charbanic and Jensen are to be commended for achieving Russ Meyer status on their very first try.
Joel Campbell (James Spader) had a breakdown after he saved his married girlfriend (Yvonne Niami) from a serial killer he’d been tracking in Los Angeles for years. Unfortunately, she still dies, as a direct result of his clumsiness (watch the film a couple of times, you’ll figure out how to put all these pieces together… I think). Campbell moved to Chicago in order to be near her grave and get away from the job for a while, and now spends his time taking huge amounts of antipsychotics and living on disability pay. Of course, the serial killer (Reeves) follows him, and the game begins again.
Reeves—and Ernie Hudson in a minor role as Spader’s supervisor—give the only two performances in this movie that can be called emotional without cracking a smile. Spader and female lead Marisa Tomei, playing his therapist, both seem to sleepwalk through the movie. A better performance by both might have turned this into at least a serviceable thriller, but that’s not what we got. **