'Night Watch': Popcorn Movie, Vodka Chaser

Night Watch is Russia's highest grossing film ever, taking in more money in three weeks than the Lord of the Rings finale did in two months. The movie takes a Hollywood-style fantasy thriller about the battle between supernatural forces of good and evil and infuses it with a homegrown Russian soul.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Russia's highest grossing movie ever is a film called Night Watch. It took in more money in three weeks than the Lord of the Rings finale earned in two months.

Now Night Watch has come to the U.S.. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN reporting:

Night Watch does the familiar a little differently. Think of it as a popcorn movie with a vodka chaser, a really strong vodka chaser.

(Soundbite of Night Watch) TURAN: Night Watch has been nothing less than sensational in its Russian-language homeland. The secret behind the success is the way the film combines two very different things.

It takes a Hollywood style fantasy thriller about the battle between good and evil, and infuses it with a homegrown Russian soul. That means a movie full of characters who specialize in morose dejected looks, who think nothing of suddenly breaking into mournful dirges like, Love still lives in my wounded heart. Who believe it is easier for men to destroy the light within them to resist darkness.

But if this sounds like the recipe for a dispiriting movie, Night Watch is anything but that. The act of Russianizing traditionally Hollywood material has brought a nice freshness to a tired genre, making the scenario feel less formulaic than usual.

The film's commercial and video roots also help. Night Watch uses quick cutting, propulsive music, and colorful locales to invigorate its plot with an unmistakable visceral energy. The film's fright moments are thankfully mild by Hollywood's dubious standards, as are its bloody battle scenes.

There's something pleasantly old fashioned and almost corny about Night Watch's situations, and that's easy to like.

Night Watch posits the kind of parallel universe right here on earth, where a truce between the supernatural forces of good and evil has been in effect for centuries. That truth and a whole lot more is in jeopardy in a plot that includes vampires, cursed virgins, a sinister vortex, and a woman who spent 60 years as a stuffed owl. If that doesn't make much sense, rest assured that seeing the film does not make anything much clearer.

To appreciate Night Watch you have to accept it as one of those chaotic cartoon movies that never completely add up. Its derivative plot can seem silly, but its characters take it completely seriously. They're belief, it turns out, makes all the difference in the world.

MONTAGNE: The movie is Night Watch. Kenneth Turan is a film critic for the Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION.

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