Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Watched! (1974)

Every cinefile has endured the dispiriting experience of realizing that an obscure but promising-sounding film actually deserves its outsider status. Case in point: Watched!, a paranoid drug film starring Stacy Keach. Seeing as how Keach was not only one of the most vibrant actors of the ’70s but also, sadly, a real-life drug addict before he ended his relationship with cocaine, the synchronicity between actor and subject matter would seem ideal. Yet writer/director John Parsons squandered the opportunity, because Watched! is amateurish, boring, and opaque. Keach stars as Mike Mandell, a California assistant district attorney celebrated for putting drug dealers in jail—at least until he becomes a drug addict himself. The movie toggles between scenes of straight Mike, a hardass in a suit who shows criminals no mercy, and user Mike, an alternately wild- and vacant-eyed waste case who spends his time trying to score with women whenever he’s not trying to score dope. Interspersed between these elements, naturally, are weird dream sequences. Although the lead character was apparently based on a real attorney who fell into an abyss of drug use, Parsons can’t figure out how to put across the story. The opening titles situate onscreen events “sometime in 1980,” which was six years in the future at the time Watched! was made. Huh? Furthermore, Parsons dives right into cutting between different phases of Mike’s life, without giving audiences the benefit of anything to orient them. Worst of all, Parsons employs a cheesy cinema-verité technique of displaying “surveillance footage” recorded by authorities. This translates to flat scenes of Keach delivering aimless monologues in tight closeups. One of Keach’s great gifts is intense focus, so asking him to loiter in static frames while spewing reams of drab dialogue wastes his talent. Harris Yulin costars as a cop who first works with Mike and later works against Mike, though his scenes are as lifeless as everything else in Watched! In fact, “watched” is the last thing this ponderous movie should be.

Watched!: LAME

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