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As anyone who saw the feverish 2004 film Night Watch would expect, lots of eye-popping stuff happens in its more-more-more sequel, Day Watch. A vampire feasts through a straw, a birthday party turns into a clash of medieval knights, red subtitles drip like blood, and a witch drives a sports car across the curved façade of a mega-hotel. Oh yeah, and the fate of the world is again at stake. But the most entertaining aspect of this hyperactive Russian fable is that it all turns on the search for the Chalk of Fate. As if director and co-writer Timur Bekmambetov hadn’t already acquired some such implement before he started this trilogy.
Actually, the filmmaker seems to have an even more powerful device. Where the Chalk of Fate merely allows someone to rewrite his or her own life, Bekmambetov can speed, slow, flip, or simply disappear everyone and everything in this world with his sorcerous utensil—call it the Chalk of CGI. In this case, he conjures the secret sub-universe of Light and Dark “Others,” superpowered beings whose millennium-long truce may be about to unravel. One reason to anticipate cosmic war is the duplicity of Zavulon (Victor Verzhbitsky), leader of the Dark side. But even if Zavulon’s gambits fail, the entire universe—which means Moscow, basically—could be fractured by the clashing power of two rising “Great Others,” the Light’s Svetlana (Maria Poroshina) and the Dark’s Yegor (Dima Martynov). The link between the two is our hero, Anton (Konstantin Khabensky); he’s Svetlana’s new partner and potential lover and Yegor’s estranged father.
The story of the first film began in 1992, at the dawn of the post-Soviet era and then zoomed in on the chaos that came with capitalism and what passes for democracy in Putin’s Russia. While always on the move, Day Watch doesn’t travel much further, at least not in forward gear. After a quick-cut recap that will jog the memories of Night Watch viewers but not do much for newcomers to the series, Bekmambetov zooms back six centuries to the era of Tamerlane, the Central Asian conqueror whose decaying hand may still be gripping the Chalk of Fate in his tomb in Samarkand. Anton, who made a terrible mistake before joining the Dark Othersnmonitoring Night Watch, hopes the Chalk will allow him to redeem Yegor from his gleefully vampiric lifestyle. But Zavulon wants the magic marker, too.
Hectic, convoluted, and cyberpunky as it is, Day Watch is essentially a murder mystery. Someone kills Yegor’s teacher, and Anton is accused of the crime. Like framed heroes since the time of, uh, Tamerlane, Anton must avoid arrest while he solves the case. Being an Other, he has certain useful abilities, such as the power to switch bodies with another Night Watch agent. He chooses Olga (Galina Tyunina), who’s usually a woman (although like so many Others she can also be a bird), so his disguise is a kind of drag. A riotous chase sequence involving the two form-swappers demonstrates one advance over the previous film: This one’s funnier.
Of course, satire was always lurking beneath the series’ breakneck zooms, goth outfits, and headbanging score. If the new film can’t sustain Night Watch’s blitzkrieg-bop pace, it compensates with several droll set pieces. There’s an amusing sequence in which a Light and a Dark Other battle for control of an airliner that’s trying to lift off, and the ultimate location of the Chalk of Fate is a hoot. And all the crumbling, cleaving, and exploding buildings are comic metaphors for the redevelopment frenzy gripping formerly collectivized Moscow. As are, come to think of it, the story’s myriad vampires.
Curiously for the second film in a trilogy, Day Watch ties up all major plot strands. Yet there’s much more material. This movie, adapted by the director along with novelist Sergei Lukyanenko and Alexander Talal, is derived entirely from the latter part of Lukyanenko’s first book and doesn’t touch the second one, also known as Day Watch. Reportedly, the third film is titled Dusk Watch and will be made in the United States with English dialogue. That means, alas, no more subtitles that hop, ooze, or change colors. Yet there’s little reason to fear that the next film won’t be wildly, weirdly alien. Whether you find his work dark, light, or both, Bekmambetov is definitely an Other.