Remember T-Ball when you were a kid? It seemed so easy – the ball just sitting there, ready to be blasted out of the park. Then you stepped up, swung your hardest, and it only went three feet. The Watch is much like this: teed-up perfectly at the comic strengths of its stars, writers, and director, it seems like a home run in the making, but in the end it barely gets on base.
Evan (Ben Stiller) is a civic-minded suburbanite who loves to organize. He’s formed several clubs and town committees, and is proud of his work as manager of the local Costco. When the store’s night security guard is murdered in suspicious circumstances, and the local police’s slow-witted and sarcastic Sgt. Bressman (Will Forte) says the townspeople should get involved in their own security, Evan springs into action, posting ads and drafting inches-thick policy manuals for a Neighborhood Watch group.
He manages to recruit only three members. Bob (Vince Vaughn) is endlessly chipper and upbeat, except where his teenage daughter is concerned. Franklin (Jonah Hill) is intense, the kind of guy who wants to be a police officer but doesn’t see anything wrong with casually flipping a butterfly knife in his hand. And Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) is a British oddball with a thing for the ladies. To Evan’s frustration, all three of them, especially Bob, see the group as more of a chance to kick back with the boys a couple of nights a week than a proper security force.
On patrol, however, they begin finding strange puddles of green goo, glowing orbs with destructive capabilities, and then an actual alien life-form. It’s clear their town has been invaded by beings from beyond, but with no help from Bressman, it’s up to them alone to put a stop to it – if they can all get their priorities straight in time.
The amount of talent on display here is crazy. Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill have all appeared in top-grossing comedies, playing exactly the type of characters they play here. Ayoade is a cult star in the UK and increasingly in North America based on his TV show The IT Crowd. Writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (with Jared Stern on this script) brought us Superbad. And director Akiva Schaffer, with the members of his Lonely Island troupe, has filmed dozens of hilarious Digital Shorts on TV’s Saturday Night Live.
The resulting film, however, fails to shine. Perhaps because these characters are so far within their wheelhouses, the three heavyweight stars cruise through on autopilot. The laughs come more from their familiar styles and delivery than from the situations. As a lesser-known element, Ayoade gets along better, though his deadpan can only go so far. Schaffer is well versed in the visual shorthand of comedy, and many good sight gags work well, but he’s not able to pull any energy out of his stars.
Most of the blame, though, goes to the writers. The script has some funny moments, and is actually quite sweet in a few places, especially the nice relationship between Evan and his wife Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt). For every one of those moments, however, we get scenes where coarse language and taboo subject matter stands in for actual jokes. I’m all for low-brow humour, but here it just feels lazy, like Rogen et al hit the bong once too often on the way to their writing desks.
Parents will also be quite shocked at what passes for a 14A-rated film these days. It’s an R in the US, and if you’re at all concerned about inappropriate material, this film should be avoided by anyone who isn’t at least old enough to drive them self to the theatre.
Look, if a comedy makes you laugh, then by definition it’s done its job. On that score, The Watch is a moderate success. But I think we all deserve better than a film that just goes through the motions, and there’s too much wasted potential here to give it a full recommendation. Wait for the DVD, which should be cheap at the Costco.
Tags: movie review