Bad omens. They're easy to recognise, aren't they? Rats don't usually dive over the side of perfectly good ships, vultures circling in the desert sky aren't just out for a Sunday afternoon hover and actors who try and disown films aren't doing it because that movie is a glistening work of unutterable brilliance.
Keanu Reeves has been backing away from The Watcher for months. He hasn't done any interviews to promote it, has near zero presence on the advertising and - allegedly - threatened to pull out of the project before filming had begun. Apparently, when he agreed to do it, The Watcher was a psychological arthouse movie and his part was considerably smaller. He was less than pleased when it ballooned into a glossy slasher pic. He was even more dis-chuffed to discover that, while he was slaving away for union scale, co-stars James Spader and Marisa Tomei were earning $1 million a piece. Cue one seriously disgruntled film star.
Even so, it's difficult to believe that the Reevester would be so aloof if The Watcher were a stunningly original, Silence-Of-The-Lambs-ish career landmark, instead of the error-riddled piece of cliché-microwaving mundanity that it is. A pick`n' mix selection of themes, scenes and characters from 20 years of thrillers (yin-yang hero and villain, FBI agent on the verge of breakdown, tension generated through improbable coincidence, yada-yada-yada), The Watcher doesn't have two original ideas to rub together. Clearly more work went into persuading Reeves to re-shackle his legal team than the script or acting.
"Half-arsed", "slipshod" and "insulting" are adjectives that come howling to mind. Did they really think that, after repeatedly blathering on about the villain's meticulous planning and forensics-defying guile, that no-one would notice that he blunders about with jaw-dropping ineptitude? Tracking the killer down would have been more tricky if he left a signed and addressed photograph at the scene of every crime. Are audiences supposed to be too stupid to realise that the climax hangs on a flimsy string of coincidences? Or that previously unmentioned clues and connections are slotted in whenever the story starts buckling?
Then there's the acting. Forget Reeves' evidently grudging performance and ask yourself how the mammothly miscast Spader and Tomei managed to blag themselves seven figures apiece for their remote-control contributions. Spader may look barely awake, but at least he's up on screen for 90 per cent of the film. Tomei's entire screen time is limited to four scenes, one of which she just spends whimpering and crying. Invest in old rope now, because the prices are clearly skyrocketing.
An effort- and imagination-free zone, this is a straight-to-bottom shelf popcorner only promoted to big-screen status by the grudging post-Matrix presence of Reeves. It treats its audience like idiots, and idiots are the only people who'll want to see it.