Take Keanu Reeves Seriously-Or He'll Stalk You And Kill You
By by SHERNG-LEE HUANG, Arts Editor
"The Watcher" belongs to that venerable tradition of police thrillers chronicling the symbiotic relationship between lawmen and lawbreakers. Police and criminals need each other to define their lives. If you take away one, the other has no purpose. They are really-gasp!-two sides of the same coin.

This postmodern version of cop-criminal relations has resulted in some pretty nifty flicks, including "Silence of the Lambs" and "Face-off." "The Watcher" tries to be like those movies, except that it sucks.

The gimmick here is that psycho Keanu Reeves kills young women solely for the purpose of antagonizing FBI agent James Spader, who investigates the murders. When a burnt-out Spader gives up the case and moves from Los Angeles to Chicago, Reeves follows him. The killings resume, and Spader must come out of retirement to put an end to the madness.

Appreciating this plot requires some suspension of disbelief. Psycho killers do what they do because they get off on it, not because they like to drive the cops bananas. And they certainly don't become fixated on individual cops.

But that didn't really bother me. What's truly ludicrous about "The Watcher" is the casting of Reeves. Poor Keanu-so many actorly ambitions, so few facial expressions. Reeves can be an effective performer-check out "My Own Private Idaho" or "The Devil's Advocate"-but his strength remains his youthful innocence. "Diabolically brilliant" is simply a stretch that he is not capable of making. Neither diabolical nor brilliant, he ends up looking kind of silly.

In an early scene, Reeves slow dances with one of his tied-up victims. Then he strangles her with piano wire. Is this creepy? In the hands of, say, Christopher Walken, hell yeah. But with Reeves, it comes across as kiddie make-believe-Bill and Ted playing air guitar.

The wince factor of the Reeves performance casts a shadow on the rest of the film, which is indeed awful but not as monumentally so. A major (but lame) plot revelation is withheld until the end-for no apparent reason. The soundtrack is an odd, often jarring, mix of orchestration and techno. Why, for instance, is there upbeat dance music playing while the cops are combing the streets of Chicago for a murder victim?

Director James Charbanic would have been much better off casting Spader as the killer and letting Reeves be the cop. Spader, usually such a slippery and deft actor, is given nothing to do here but look puffy-eyed and haunted. Marisa Tomei is equally awful as Spader's psychologist.

But maybe, in this postmodern age of irony, that's the point. It's all interchangeable: cop, killer, hero, villain, good actor, bad actor. Yeah, it's a point - but it's hardly an interesting one.

Issue 02, Submitted 2000-09-13 16:00:08