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NIGHTWATCH

by: Michael Dequina

With two hot young stars (Ewan McGregor and Patricia Arquette), a stylish director, and a creepy premise based on a popular Danish thriller, Nightwatch built some buzz... back in October 1996, when it was originally slated to surface in theatres. A year and a half and many scrapped release dates later, Nightwatch is finally set to make its long-delayed screen bow, and this flat, predictable chiller will likely come and go so quickly some will wonder if it ever did come out.

The ever-amiable Scot McGregor struggles with an American accent as law student Martin Bells, who bravely accepts the nightwatchman gig at a morgue as a serial killer stalks the city. After more bodies and plot twists pile up, Martin finds himself the prime suspect in the case, earning the suspicion of his girlfriend Katherine (Arquette, completely wasted in the screaming galpal role), his best friend James (Josh Brolin), and police inspector Cray (Nick Nolte) as the real killer continues his rampage.

Writer-director Ole Bornedal, adapting his 1995 original, is a natural at creating atmosphere. Martin's first few scenes in the morgue, with their creaky elevator, long hallway, locked room with vats of body parts, and stark white room with alarm cords hanging over the dead bodies (in case they "wake up") are downright skincrawling. Ironically, this grim, daunting atmosphere of fear and dread disappears when the serial killer plot comes to the forefront. This is mainly because the so-called mystery is so incredibly predictable. One character is set so obviously set up as a possibility early on that the person might as well have "red herring" tattooed on the forehead, and when the killer's identity is revealed, it's an anticlimax--there is no surprise. And the overdone climax, with the killer wielding a buzzsaw as two characters lie helplessly tied to operating tables, inspired guffaws rather than shrieks from the audience.

According to the press notes, Bornedal's original Nightwatch "broke all Danish box-office records." I can only hope that that version is much scarier than the American Nightwatch, or else Denmark's cinematic taste is just about as notoriously bad as France's.

RATING: ** 1/2 (out of *****)

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