*/**** Image C- Sound C
starring Corey Haim, Barbara Williams, Michael Ironside
screenplay by Bill Freed and Damian Lee, based on Watchers by Dean R. Koontz
directed by Jon Hess
WATCHERS II (2002)
ZERO STARS/**** Image C Sound C
starring Marc Singer, Tracy Scoggins, Jonathan Farwell, Irene Miracle
screenplay by Henry Dominic
directed by Thierry Notz
by Walter Chaw Lassie vs. Link in what amounts to one of the stupidest films ever made: an adaptation of a Dean Koontz (one of the stupidest novelists ever made) novel, Watchers looks cheap, plays cheap, and stars Corey Haim as a Lita Ford-looking, ambiguously gay teen who's upstaged by a dog yet again (see: The Lost Boys and, in a way, Silver Bullet). At least he's not upstaged by Corey Feldman this time around, which, frankly, can't be good for anyone's career or self respect. A tale of a genetically engineered orangutan warring with a genetically engineered golden retriever in the upscale suburbs of Anywhere, America that looks like Vancouver and boasts of the entire Mayberry police force, Watchers is aided now and again by a trademark ridiculous performance from Michael Ironside, the poor man's Jack Nicholson, but is generally an unredeemable tale of military paranoia and dog love. As the mutt gazes intently off-screen at the commands of his invisible handler (and Haim the same), the film has as its only vaguely interesting moment one where a fat kid named "Piggy" and Jason Priestly try to out-bike the killer-monkey, restaging The Lord of the Flies as a BMX downhill derby. Oh, the humanity.
Barbara Williams predicts her role in John Sayles's City of Hope as the mother of a severely mentally challenged child, Travis (Haim), who, looking more like Corey Hart now that I think about it, is your average late-'80s teen who adopts a super-dog psychically linked to a military-made death ape. The premise already hopelessly tetchy, the execution seems to suggest that the telepathic link has a half-day delay, leading to repeated instances of the chimp of no remorse showing up where wonder-dog's already been, killing whatever poor bastard happens to be there at the moment. It is a story contrivance mirrored by the pursuit of inexorable "NSO" (those evil fuckers at the NSA will never guess) agent Ironside, who typically shows up just before demon mandrill to intimidate and kidnap. Bad primates aren't the enemy, son, the darkness within all of us is.
Special effects are terrible, direction is terrible, editing the same, and a heartbreaking scene between the boy and his dog in a cabin makes Phoebe Cates's Santa Claus monologue from Gremlins play like Shakespeare in its poetry and a limerick in its brevity. There are worse films than Watchers mainly because Watchers earns its right to exist by being extraordinarily funny--the contention that Corey Haim could hang in there in a game of Scrabble with a dog is, you've gotta admit, pretty hilarious. Creature effects are all but nonexistent; a failing that many are willing to forgive for the low-budget Canadian origins of this bit of crapulence, forgetting that the creature shop for "The Outer Limits"--a show airing more than two decades before The Watchers and with, even figuring inflation, a comparatively miniscule budget--churned out better looking creatures on a weekly basis. Arguably, though, the film is worth it for the sight of Haim getting stabbed in the leg and screaming like Demi Moore: You can't script time capsule stuff like that--nor can you apparently explain to Williams that a tourniquet goes above a wound.
Because there's no fatigue limit in the United States to the number of sequels that can be made of films that feature smart dogs (see also: Air Bud, Beethoven, Benji), Watchers II is only the first of three sequels to the misbegotten franchise (the latest of which features Luke Skywalker, himself; the second, Wings Hauser)--this one stars "V"'s own Donovan, Beastmaster Marc Singer. The story is essentially the same: smart pup escapes captivity (and wouldn't its creators be disappointed if it didn't?--ah, irony), as does a rabid guy in a gibbon suit, leading to a K-9 (there's another one) buddy formula of which Singer is the dumber partner. The bad guys this time out are the NSA (those evil fuckers at the NSO will never guess), and the reels of creature POV's meant to forestall the ultimately embarrassing creature effects are shot this time around with a purple filter. I, personally, was amazed by what two years can do for special effects technology. Sadly both of these Watchers films landed just after the hammer fell on violence in the movies, leading to a remarkable squeamishness in their presentation of gore and violence that neuters the pictures of the only thing that could possibly have justified their existence: prurience.
What results in Watchers II is something at once chaste and sombre, a joyless exercise that has as its chief selling point the fact that a scene where PETA terrorists break out the mutant baboon is aped (ha-ho!) by Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later.... The weird thing about the two movies (and probably the other two as well, he says tempting fate) is that there seems to be an ugly monster vs. pretty monster thing going on (gorilla ugly, dog pretty; Ironside ugly, Haim theoretically pretty), with the creature's dedicated victim eye-destruction a little of the ol' "don't look at me" bullstuff. Not enough to hang a recommendation on, it's at least more interesting than trying to figure out the careers of Singer, didn't-you-used-to-be Tracy Scroggins, Haim, and Ironside. It's also more interesting than trying to figure out who thought that remaking the first film situation-by-situation with a little more gore and nudity was a good idea. Note of interest, maybe, is the revelation that the rubber suit is the same one used in The Terror Within, director Thierry Notz's previous masterpiece. Eh, who'm I kidding, the most interesting thing about Watchers II is that I had the dual thoughts somewhere during the ordeal that of course Singer can talk to animals and that he should be better at it than he is in this thing.
Artisan knocks another one out of the ballpark with this brilliant two-fer, packaging both Watchers opuses on one side of a disc, housing them in a keepcase that has hardly ever been this ironically named. Children's films inappropriate for young children, both films are presented in full-frame video presentations long on the ugly (ugly = bad, recall) and short on the watchable. Colours bloom, lines are indistinct, haircuts are bad, and flesh tones make everyone look sunburned or over-foundationed. Because the second film is much newer than the first, I guess, it does look a little better. "2.0 Dolby Stereo Surround" mixes present the dialogue in a clear, over-produced television movie sort of way, with the sole redeeming special feature of the disc that there are no special features. The marketing philosophy of this sort of thing is astonishing mainly for the fact that it seems to have borne fruit: buy two bad movies for almost the price of one. Originally published: October 31, 2003.