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Day Watch: White Russian 

Russian thriller franchise fizzles in second act

Like its predecessor Night Watch, the supernatural action flick Day Watch is being promoted as Russia's answer to The Matrix or The Lord of the Rings. In reality, director Timur Bekmambetov's Watch movies belong on a par with the cheesy, faux-Gothic Crow or Highlander franchises.

The premise involves a fraying, thousand-year-old truce between supernatural beings such as vampires and witches who divide themselves between "Light Others" and "Dark Others." It's hard to tell one from the other, though, because they all hang out in Moscow, look like hungover criminals and say things like, "He escaped into a Second Level Gloom!" Grungy good guy Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) finds himself at the center of the conflict: His son, Yegor (Dima Martynov), is a powerful, Antichrist-like "Great Other" on the side of evil, while Anton's trainee and budding girlfriend Sveta (Mariya Poroshina) is Yegor's opposite number, an equally strong being on the side of the angels.

Compared with the scene-setting Night Watch, Day Watch adds some welcome humor and campy exaggeration, such as the scenes with a punk fashionista Dark Other who likes to drive sports cars up the sides of buildings. The film shows a particular fondness for high-heeled boots and heavy-metal guitars. Day Watch uses its occult premise for an almost romantic farce when Anton switches bodies with a female colleague (the appealing Galina Tyunina), then hangs out with Sveta without revealing his/her identity.

Bekmambetov clearly enjoys pushing the editing and CGI effects to their limits and creates some wild images, such as a warrior on horseback smashing through thick stone walls at the beginning, or Moscow buildings being shattered by natural disasters at the end. Perhaps the constant use of cinematic trickery, down to the liveliness of the English subtitles, is meant to convey the perceptions of the Others, to whom the material world looks more fluid. But the visuals offer no substitute for a plot you can understand or characters with whom you can identify.

The pompousness of the project weighs down Day Watch's second half, which relies on the pursuit of a magic artifact called the Chalk of Fate. The big finale takes place at a shrill, seemingly endless party scene, and though the Watch films have been discussed as a trilogy, Day Watch's finale seems pretty conclusive. Perhaps the filmmakers should move onto more comprehensible things. If Highlander's tagline boasts, "There can be only one!" maybe Day Watch should add, "There should be only two!"

Day Watch. 2 stars. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Stars Konstantin Khabensky and Mariya Poroshina. Rated R. Opens Fri., June 15. At area theaters.

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