Some movies are best enjoyed by viewers willing to abide by the old adage, “check your brain at the door.” Others, however, require some further commitment in this department – rather than just, metaphorically, leave said brain on one’s front porch, it’s more appropriate to give it some money for cab fare, send it out for a nice night on the town (preferably the other side of town), and tell it not to hurry home.
Then, while your gray matter is out doing brainy things – attending, perhaps, a gallery opening or a lecture on the geopolitical climate that precipitated the Crimean War – you can stay home, put your feet up, and enjoy a deeply silly movie like The Night Watchmen, guilt-free. It’s more than worth the effort.
The film, from director Mitchell Altieri, is an over-the-top horror/comedy that pits a team of bumbling security guards against an onslaught of vampires led by a bloodthirsty undead clown. It’s got manic energy to spare, and because it never sets out to be anything more ambitious than an enjoyably goofy, occasionally bloody vampire-slaying romp, it basically succeeds on all fronts.
“Silly, splattery, and mostly well-staged on a low budget…”
Altieri and company’s best choice is to keep things rolling at a hyperkinetic pace throughout, with gags and action bits so quick and plentiful that viewers are almost never left time to groan when a joke falls flat or a moment tips the scale from silly over to stupid. That caffeinated approach to storytelling is apparent right off the rip, as The Night Watchmen efficiently and entertainingly introduces its protagonist (Max Gray Wilbur) – a punk rocker turned rent-a-cop who, thanks to one of the film’s more clever gags, will come to be known only as Rajeeve – to his soon-to-be brothers-in-arms. They’re the night security crew at a Baltimore city newspaper, made up of slacker ex-Marine Ken (Ken Arnold), amiable but equally work-averse Jiggetts (Kevin Jiggetts), and the mysterious, short-tempered Luca (Dan DeLuca), who may or may not be a hitman hiding out under witness protection.
With the team quickly established, Rajeeve undergoes a few obligatory (rather amusing) hazing rituals before the proverbial s**t hits the fan. Long story short (just the way this movie likes it): the corpse of a beloved Baltimore clown named Blimpo is accidentally shipped to the paper’s warehouse, and when it’s disturbed by skeevy editor Randall (character actor James Remar, seemingly having a great time slumming it), the building – and the rest of the city – is soon besieged by a plague of bloodsuckers in the vampiric Blimpo’s thrall.
The vampire slaughter that follows is silly, splattery, and mostly well-staged on a low budget, and as the titular night watchmen attempt to fight back – alongside no-nonsense reporter Karen (Kara Ruiz) and, occasionally, badass janitor Willy (Matt Servitto) – the locked-down location gives things a nice Die Hard/Assault on Precinct 13 sort of feel at times. There’s even an effective jump scare or two dished out in the film’s early going, though a movie that features this many squeaky clown shoes (It notwithstanding) is obviously leaning pretty heavily toward the “comedy” side of the comedy/horror equation.
“Give your brain the night off, crack a beer, and enjoy without reservations.”
Again, the rapid-fire pace of The Night Watchmen‘s gags is the movie’s greatest asset, though the humor is very much hit-and-miss – a recurring fart joke, for example, is groan-worthy on its initial appearance and just gets worse as it’s repeated ad nauseum from there. Nothing remotely approaches the comedic brilliance of obvious influences like Evil Dead 2 or Shaun of the Dead, but there are more than a handful of laughs to be had throughout, particularly for viewers who are in touch with their inner 12-year-old.
That’s the irony of a movie like The Night Watchmen: there’s obvious smarts and skill behind its stupidity; it knows exactly what its audience wants and how to keep delivering it over and over. This is a flick that isn’t too proud to trot out the old “is that a flashlight in your pocket” bit, that knows its viewers won’t give a s**t that most of the major characters are named after the actors who play them, that’s wholeheartedly convinced that hip hop slang from the early 2000s is still hilarious. And, somehow, all of that stuff works – even the lame jokes feel like they belong, and the movie is somehow even more endearing for leaving them in.
So, yes, give your brain the night off, crack a beer, and enjoy without reservations – The Night Watchmen is damn entertaining, and anyone who can’t appreciate it is simply thinking too hard.
The Night Watchmen (2017) Directed by Mitchell Altieri. Written by Dan DeLuca and Jamie Nash. Starring Ken Arnold, Dan DeLuca, Kevin Jiggetts, Max Gray Wilbur, Kara Luiz, James Remar, Matt Servitto, Diona Reasonover, and Rain Pryor.
4 out of 5 stars