Movie Review: The Watch
The Watch always had an uphill battle ahead of it, between promising but confusing early trailers that obfuscated the film’s alien invasion angle, the name (and trailer) change that came following the Trayvon Martin tragedy in Florida (originally the film was meant to be called Neighborhood Watch and its trailer contained some content that was a bit evocative of those events), and the theater promotional materials that traded on the image of the alien antagonists – which were not well highlighted in any of the trailers – versus the cast. It seemed that Fox was doing everything it could to help this film slip into obscurity. As it turns out, Fox wasn’t the only entity confused about the movie. The Watch is just a weird little film that doesn’t really know what it wants to be.
What The Watch is is a silly – at times juvenile – action/sci-fi comedy buddy-adventure film. Got it? If you’re confused that’s perfectly okay, because The Watch veers wildly between those different genres and the various plot threads that surround them so frequently that I’m not entirely sure how to classify the film.
The basic premise of the film revolves around Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller), a high-strung, controlling, but polite Costco manager who forms a neighborhood watch after the store’s security guard (and Evan’s “friend”) is killed and flayed. Evan’s call to arms for the Watch is answered only by three other men: Bob (Vince Vaughn), an excitable guy who doesn’t seem to have any other friends and who is very seriously policing his teenage daughter; Franklin (Jonah Hill), a police academy washout with severe emotional issues and no friends; and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), a strange British bloke with no friends (notice a trend?). Together, the group battles the local police, high school ruffians, and, oh yeah, alien invaders.
The plot is little more than a loose framework for the comedic set-ups, and little time is spent explaining the logistics of this world. As long as it sets up a gag, then that’s usually all that matters in this script penned by Jared Stern, Seth Rogan, and Evan Goldberg. Many of the moments in the film are there primarily for the actors to riff off of one another. Continuing a joke long past the point where it was funny is a problem that The Watch consistently butts up against. It’s one of my comedic pet peeves (earlier this summer The Dictator had much the same problem). Look, I know that these guys are all funny and probably have a grand old time dicking around in front of the camera with their friends, but extended sequences full of pratfalls and lame Who’s-on-first-esque improv scenes aren’t incredibly humorous.
The only reason The Watch works at all is through the incredible performances from Ayoade, Hill, and Vaughn. Stiller is serviceable, but his role (and performance) is so much like any number of Ben Still roles that he’s easy to forget; you could easily slot in several of his past characters into this role and not miss a single beat. But the dedication of the other three actors to these roles is the only reason to see The Watch.
Vaughn’s playing in familiar territory as Bob, but with the parental twist and the fact that his character is actually kind of a likable guy. He’s loud and obnoxious at times, but he genuinely wants to be friends with this group. Hill’s character seems to channel his character in 21 Jump Street… if he had washed out of the police force and became a weird paramilitary nut job. The intensity Hill brings to Franklin would be frightening in a more serious film; here, surrounded by goofiness, Franklin is great. And wait until you see Hill whip out the butterfly knife, it’s hilarious (and takes a load of skill; reportedly Hill trained extensively to use it). But, my favorite of the cast is Richard Ayoade.
Probably best known as Moss in the British sitcom The IT Crowd (which is streamable in the U.S. on Netflix and is highly recommended), Ayoade is a supremely funny actor and, if I’m being completely honest, probably the only reason I was moderately excited to see The Watch. Here Ayoade isn’t given much heavy lifting (and doesn’t get as much screen time as the others), but he throws himself completely into the weird role of Jamarcus. Ayoade is able to make me laugh with just a facial expression, and he’s got some fairly funny moments peppered throughout the film. Combine his great comic sensibility with the other three performances, and you’ve got a great and funny ensemble, if nothing else.
Is The Watch a funny movie? At times it’s boisterously funny, but not consistently so. Between the strange premise and the overly in-you-face product placement (Costco, Budweiser, 3D televisions, and Coca-Cola all make prominent appearances during the film) and the sometimes hit or miss comedy of the script, The Watch isn’t sure enough of itself to be a classic. It’s got some decent laughs and an incredibly strong cast keeping it together. Should you go see it in the theater? Probably not, but it’s worth checking out once it hits home video for sure.