by Steve Habrat
What do you get when you put Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill in the same movie? Apparently, an extremely mediocre product with a flabby screenplay and a small handful of memorable chuckles. The Watch is the newest comedy misfire in a summer that has been loaded with comedy misfires that really hurt (The Dictator, That’s My Boy). In a way it is pitiful because The Watch stumbled right out of the gate and it has never really been able to right itself. The film has been unfairly overshadowed by the real-life murder of Trayvon Martin, who was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator. The studio countered with scrubbing away “Neighborhood” from the title and they crossed their fingers that the film would still be a big late summer draw. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to realize that their science-fiction/horror/comedy hybrid wasn’t really all that funny or freaky. The Watch really tanks when it asks Vaughn and Stiller to deliver most of the funnies through improvised sequences that are supposed to act as the glue holding the shoddy alien invasion plot together. In all actuality, it is slightly embarrassing for Vaughn and Stiller, who are both talented guys if they are handed the right material. They are just lucky that Hill steps up and does most of the heavy lifting.
The Watch takes us to the small Ohio (!) town of Glenview, a peaceful community that Evan Trautwig (Played by Stiller) calls home. The busybody Evan works as the manager of the local Costco but his public service doesn’t stop there. In his free time, Evan creates a number of neighborhood clubs ranging from the jogging club to the Spanish club. After one of his Costco security guards is gruesomely murdered and skinned one night, Evan decides that he is going to make sure that the killer is brought to justice. Evan forms the Neighborhood Watch with the hope of attracting a slew of gung-ho recruits eager to wrangle this menace. Evan ends up with the mouthy construction worker Bob (Played by Vaughn), the mentally unstable wannabe cop Franklin (Played by Hill), and the recent divorcee Jamarcus (Played by Richard Ayoade). What begins as a distraction from their boring day-to-day lives takes a bizarre turn when the group stumbles upon a strange metallic orb lying on the side of the road. In addition the orb, a number of locals are turning up dead in the most gruesome ways imaginable. As the group’s investigation deepens, they stumble upon an alien invasion that threatens to wipe out the planet.
A good majority of The Watch finds our four concerned citizens plunked down in Bob’s glorified man-cave while they sip beers and gripe about their daily problems. This would all be fine with me expect that these four funny-guys can’t seem to gel. Stiller is all jittery pleas for the group to stay focused while overseeing the club with an iron fist. Stiller’s jitters sometimes seem like they are not simply a character tick but maybe nerves over having to improvise every joke he delivers. Vaughn is the polar opposite of Stiller but not in a good way. He is meant to be the party animal who finds comfort in the company of his bros. Most of his motor mouth improvising will have you wishing he would stick a cork in it for a while and let Ayoade and Hill have the floor. The British Ayoade is a promising talent but he rarely gets a chance to show you what he is made of. While Ayoade tries to brighten things up, Hill takes things from ho-hum to hilarious when he finds his whacked out groove. He gets all the films best lines with his dry delivery. Halfway through the film, Hill gets a moment at a teen party that had my group of friends and I in stitches. Sadly, the sequence doesn’t last long enough so savor it while it lasts.
The best parts of The Watch come from the more emotionally charged moments in the script. Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg serve as the screenwriters here so it is no surprise that the intimate buddy moments are splendidly written. A small scene between Bob and Evan in the middle of the film is a standout, one that narrowly saves the entire film. The scene finds the two just sitting on a park bench having a few beers and talking about all their problems a home. The scene really hits the mark when Evan confesses a piercing secret that really makes you feel for the guy and understand his intensity a bit more. Bob, on the other hand, is a terrified and confused parent who just wants what is right for his teenage daughter, a nice touch to an incredibly annoying character. Meanwhile Ayoade’s, Jamarcus and Hill’s Franklin are both left underdeveloped, surprising considering they are much more interesting than the characters that Stiller and Vaughn are stuck with. The script is eager to give away secrets about Jamarcus so when we finally arrive at the big twist near the end of the film, it falls short because we saw it coming about forty-five minutes ago. We never really do learn much about Franklin, only what he chooses to reveal in early scenes, which is that he is a deranged failure who shacks up with his mom. I was left wanting more from his character.
The rest of the background players of The Watch all quickly evaporate from your memory when the credits roll, which doesn’t really work in the film’s favor. Will Forte shows up as a bug-eyed cop who is dumber than dirt. Rosemarie DeWitt is present as Evan’s wife Abby, who is mostly there to look sexy and try to seduce him. Billy Crudup pops in as Evan’s creepy new neighbor who may be up to no good in his eerily lit basement. The last act of the film falls victim to tons of lousy CGI aliens, distracting explosions, and chaotic gunfights that are meant to riff on action movie clichés. It appears that the filmmakers suddenly remembered that they had to tie up the alien invasion plot so they just blew a bunch of stuff up and called it a day. The rest of the film resorts to clunky jokes about penises, orgies, and fellatio, all of which are complimented by classic hip-hop songs, which do nothing to make the film funnier. I will admit that I did chuckle more than a few times throughout The Watch but I only laughed hard two or three times. I should have laughed hard a hell of a lot more than that, especially with this cast of clowns at the wheel. The Watch ends up being another colossal letdown in the comedy department.