As if Vincent D’Onofrio’s mush-mouthed fetishist in The Cell didn’t do enough damage, the cultural cachet of serial killers is bound to take another hit with Keanu Reeves trying his hand at sociopathic legitimacy in The Watcher. Reeves is David Allen Griffin, a nattily dressed L.A. strangler who follows FBI burnout Jack Campbell (James Spader) to Chicago to continue their stalled game of catch-the-psycho. The pill-popping Campbell, who let his lover fall prey to Griffin years ago, is being nurtured by a pretty psychologist (Marisa Tomei with suitably furrowed brow), but she seems less interested in uncovering the source of the agent’s guilt than in getting him to ask her out. The real healing (and flirting) in The Watcher takes place between the two men: As the smitten murderer cannily deduces, each is at his best only when pursuing the other.
True to the state of this bafflingly long-lived subgenre, The Watcher sidesteps any juicy subtext in favor of routine chase-movie thrills. Reeves and Spader seem game to explore the homoerotic underpinnings of the cop-killer dyad, but tyro director Joe Charbanic tiptoes around the subject like a jittery schoolboy. He’s more at ease with the screenplay’s underdeveloped themes of isolation and need (despite having no facility for expressing them visually); as a result, he drains the central relationship of any chemistry or suspense. During the movie’s flat, girl-in-jeopardy finale, the agent reminds the murderer of all the other serial killers he could be tracking down. “You’re my job,” he tells the puppy-dog-eyed predator, “you’re paperwork.” I know what he means.
The messy emotional confrontations missing from The Watcher are everywhere in The Bulls’ Night Out. Shot in 1995 on a meager budget, Lindley Farley’s urban thriller follows a group of retired cops who fuck up badly when they try to police their Greenpoint neighborhood the old-fash-ioned way: through intimidation and murder. Bulls’ Night Out is awkwardly overplayed—a domestic subplot involving the lead cop’s daughter is particularly punishing—and Farley helps himself to every Scorsese trick in the book. Nevertheless, it’s a likable, earnest character study with a rare sense of purpose and not a serial killer in sight.