When a movie is delayed as many times as "Nightwatch," it's a pretty sure sign that there are problems.

There are extremely rare exceptions to the rule - but this definitely isn't one of them.A messy serial-killer flick based on a Dutch movie that debuted at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival, "Nightwatch" wastes the talents of its decent cast (Ewan McGregor, Nick Nolte and Patricia Arquette are among the stars). And it creates some doubt as to why director Ole Bornedal (who also made the original) wanted to do it again.

As to why the film was delayed for so long (it was shelved for a year), studio heads allegedly wanted to wait until McGregor became a star. But after last year's bomb "A Life Less Ordinary," that wasn't going to happen anytime soon. Nor is it likely to happen now.

The movie does feature a creepy premise: Young law student Martin Bells (McGregor) takes a part-time job as a night watchman in a morgue to make ends meet. There he becomes privy to information about a series of grisly murders, in which the assailant kills prostitutes and carves out their eyes.

Of course, Martin's knowledge also makes him a primary suspect, especially when one of the victims is a call-girl who wrote his name in blood.

Suddenly he's forced to find the killer in order to prove his own innocence. But he has quite a list of suspects - including Martin's twisted friend James (Josh Brolin) and a police inspector (Nick Nolte) and his partner (John C. Reilly). And what about the freaky doctor (Brad Dourif)?

Actually, things become so purposely gruesome and unpleasant that many audiences won't care about the "surprising" revelations at the end - which is especially disappointing since the first 40 minutes or so establishes a pretty tense atmosphere.

But the screenplay, co-written by Bornedal and Steven Soderbergh ("The Underneath"), concentrate more on the killings than the characters. Ultimately, things degenerate into some pretty routine slasher attacks.

Aside from Brolin, who's perfectly enigmatic, the cast seems pretty uninspired. McGregor is subdued to the point of being comatose, while Arquette slurs most of her dialogue. But they're all wonderful when compared to Nolte, who chews the scenery as if he's starving.

"Nightwatch" is rated R for violent knife attacks and a fistfight, some gory makeup and special effects, profanity, nudity, vulgar references, sex and drug use.