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James Spader


James Spader and Keanu Reeves are all style
and no substance in a paint-the-numbers thriller

"The Watcher"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)

Sometimes, in searching for deeper meanings in a motion picture, we lose sight of the fact that most movies are meant to be just plain fun, and have no ambitions further than that. Of course, there are also the movies that don't even achieve those modest yet not inconsequential goals.

In this film, Joel Campbell (James Spader) is a burned out FBI agent suffering from horrible migraines and worse nightmares. He was chasing a serial killer in Los Angeles, two years prior to when the main plot of this movie commences, getting very close. But as a result of his single-minded pursuit, a woman was burned to death. Haunted by those memories, he is gradually shutting himself away from the world, taking refuge in a squalid apartment in a new city (Chicago), existing on pills and bad Vietnamese food.

Keanu ReevesBut his old pal from Los Angeles (Keanu Reeves) has tracked him down and is up to his old tricks, namely murdering young women. Just to entice Cmapbell back into the game, he is sending the ex-agent photographs of his potential victims and giving him 24 hours to keep the murder from occuring. A rather predictable cat and mouse game ensues.

Spader is taking an abrupt u-turn in his career, going from roles that are rather callow and awkward to becoming a surly action hero, in movies like this one and "Supernova." Quite frankly, the roles don't suit him. The soft-spoken Spader comes off nearly as messed up as the killer he's chasing. Instead of being hard-bitten, he seems merely neurotic.

Then there's Keanu. A scene early on (which is repeated near the movie's conclusion) shows oh-so-cool Keanu dancing, gun in hand, to a throbbing industrial beat. It's quite a pose, and really sums up everything I don't like about the guy. Not only is his range limited, but he comes off as shallow and self-serving, which roles like this only amplify.

Marisa TomeiGoing for "The Watcher" are some genuinely tense moments when Keanu's prey is being stalked (and Keanu, mercifully, is off-screen) as time runs out. Also the presence of two underutilized actors: "My Cousin Vinny's" Marisa Tomei and "Ghostbusters" Ernie Hudson help things, though both are given not nearly enough to do. One can only hope we see more of the two of them in better movies.

"The Watcher" has moments, but not many. Stylish rather than substantive, "The Watcher" settles for trying to look hip and appealing to a less-than-discerning audience. If you have higher standards than the average MTV droid, you should have the sense to skip this one.

Theater or Video?
This claustrophobic MTV thriller would work best on your own TV set.

DVD at

See cast, credit and other details about "The Watcher" at Internet Movie Data Base.