(director: Joe Charbanic; screenwriters: Clay Ayers/David Elliot/based on a story by Darcy Meyers and David Elliot; cinematographer: Michael Chapman; editor: Richard Nord; cast: James Spader (Campbell), Marisa Tomei (Polly), Keanu Reeves (Griffin), Ernie Hudson (FBI Director, Ibby), Chris Ellis (Hollis), Rebakah Louise Smith (Ellie),Yvonne Niami (Lisa), Robert Cicchini (Mitch), Jennifer McShane (Diana), Gina Alexander (Sharon); Runtime: 93; Universal Pictures; 2000)

“Everything is a cliché.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A routine serial killer flick, set in Chicago. Everything about the film is a cliché. There is the sensitive lawman who is traumatized by the killings and his inability to get the killer. There’s also the cat-and-mouse games that ensue between FBI Agent Joel Campbell (Spader) and the elusive killer who has the obligatory three names all serial killers seem to have, David Allen Griffin (Reeves).

The serial killer follows the agent from L.A. to Chicago, where he phones to tell him “it hasn’t been the same since you left. I missed you.” A psychic connection is established between the killer and the investigating agent which is depicted like yin and yang, each needing the other to exist. What follows is the ego-maniacal taunting from the killer, as he sends photos of the next intended victim to Campbell. He gives the police a day before killing his next vic.

The attempt to bring any psychology into this thriller never materializes, except in the most banal manner. An inexperienced therapist, played with restraint by Marisa Tomei, doles out inane cheerleading analysis to the burnt-out cop who has become her patient, concerned that the killer is using him as his excuse to kill.

In fact, the killer is more interested in playing mind games with Spader than he is in killing his victims.

This debut feature by the music video director Joe Charbanic is formulaic and painted by-the-numbers.

James Spader as the lead, most of his career a fine actor though slipping as of late, has difficulty doing anything with his predictable role. He needs reassurance from his shrink that he can catch the killer but gets further frustrated that he is unsuccessful in saving the lives of two nondescript women who can’t be warned in time of the danger they are in, despite their pictures plastered all over the ‘Windy City’ and on the TV news.

The film covers up its banal story by some pretty slick shooting devices which include: fast-paced editing and jump-cuts and, at times, when taking on the killer’s point of view, making the beautiful color go grainy with a hand-held video camera. What the sleek looking film accomplishes is that it makes this hollow film very watchable, looking much like an MTV video.

The film ultimately fails because the story is never drawn out enough to make it spellbinding, the two main characters are too hackneyed to keep things interesting. After about 80 minutes into the film it breaks completely down into silliness. The killer and the cop – yin and yang – meet face-to-face for the first time in the cemetery, where Spader’s girlfriend is buried. The two antagonists continue their cat-and-mouse relationship as the pretty therapist hostage reminds Spader of his failure to save his former girlfriend. This makes for a dicey ending to a dicey pic.

The Watcher Movie Poster Image