Directed by Joe Charbanic, starring James Spader, Keanu Reeves and Marisa Tomei.
Rating: 18

Having provided some of the finest unintentional comedy of the 90s with his performances as Harker in 'Dracula', Buddha in, eh, 'Little Buddha' and James Dean in Paula Abdul's 'Rush Rush' video, you would expect Keanu Reeves to have them rolling in the aisles again with his turn as a serial killer in 'The Watcher'. But in one of the biggest screen shocks in many a year, he's nowhere near as funny as you want him to be. Granted, he's a bit too mahogany to convince anyone that he's evil incarnate but lines like 'I will…kill you...now...yuhs...most excellent!' don't spring from his lips either.

At an it'll-be-over-by-ten running time of 97 minutes, 'The Watcher' is a half hour short of a fine-tuned character study, but should have you looking nervously at the anorak beside you on the bus home. Spader is Joel Campbell, a burnt out FBI profiler self-exiled to Chicago in an attempt to escape the unsolved case of serial killer David Griffin (Reeves) back in Los Angeles. But as Campbell's life further unravels in a haze of pills and nightmares, Griffin re-appears, sending him pictures of young women and challenging him to find them alive within 24 hours. What saves the film from straight to video fare is Spader's deadpan turn as the frayed, vial-munching lawman with a guilty secret. While dysfunctional heroes are nothing new, the image of an FBI man hunter who can barely make it out of bed never mind down the stairs and onto the streets grounds the film in reality for the first hour.

While the cat-and-mouse games between Spader and Reeves are efficient if predictable, Charbanic loses both the plot and audience with the Dastardly and Muttley style denouement ("stop the killer, stop the killer"). Complete with cans of petrol, shotguns hanging by strings and burning buildings it stomps on the good work Spader does in the build-up and aches for the low-key nature of the first 45 minutes. Charbanic needs to learn how to pace a film; Spader meanwhile hasn't looked so addled in years.

Harry Guerin