I’ve often said that comedy is a hard genre for me to review. Comedies rely on its viewer’s different sense of humor; while one thing may be funny to one, it may not be funny to another. Usually I set my bar pretty low in reviewing a comedy (well, today’s comedies anyway) and I mainly judge them if it actually made me crack a chuckle or two. Well, if you saw the trailers for “The Watch”, you would know right away that the film isn’t going to be exactly a hit, and may be the kind of movie that you would see with a group of friends while playing poker with a lot of beer and pizza. You would be so right.
When a security guard got killed in the neighborhood Costco, its manager, Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller) decides to put together a neighborhood watch in their suburban neighborhood. His wife Abby (Rosemarie Dewitt) wants kids, but it seems like Evan is more focused on “clubs” (he is also the head of the ‘running club’) to occupy his time. This sets into motion his new “club” or “watch” as you call it and he gets three other guys to join in with his idea. Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill) and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) have their own reasons for joining Evan’s “watch” and the quartet have issues getting their direction. But when they stumble upon an alien invasion, they must work past their differences and try to save their neighborhood, maybe even the world.
You know alien movies and buddy comedies often use a formula and sometimes they do mesh well together. When you look at the premise of “The Watch”, I thought “Hot Fuzz”, “Paul”, “Attack the Block” and even “Men in Black”. It borrows some elements from such movies and then tries to come up with something that could stand on its own (at least try). The plot is pretty standard and as expected, the film relies on some raunchy humor, foul-mouthed banter and some rather silly plot developments (even a scene that can be seen as a tribute to “E.T.” and “Close Encounters“). For some reason, the writing makes the center of it to be Evan, who is by all means, intended to be a boring character who is trying to make up for something. It is a subplot that does not work as it hampers the plot development. The film does try to balance it out by giving the viewer a glimpse of the other members in the group such as Bob’s issues with his daughter, Chelsea (Erin Moriarty), it struggles and becomes very tiresome. The screenplay may not be totally horrible, but it is just barely passable.
Much of the time, the foursome is just going into some idiotic behavior. I mean, I understand, some guys just need to get away from the family issues, right? It is ok to act like idiots at times, right? But even with the “supposed” charm of the cast (I am stunned that Jonah Hill took this role after his successful “21 Jump Street”), the dynamics of the characters did not feel right, and even when I laughed (sure, some parts were funny), I just could not get over the fact that the film is just way too over-the-top, developments resemble a SY FY movie and the characters felt rather hollow. Certain devices just did not work, as the direction by Akiva Schaffer struggled to find some footing.
The characters are pretty cliché. I mean I’ve always thought that Stiller isn’t very funny, and so, if you don’t like his work, then you should just stay away since he plays his usual character (except from “Tropic Thunder“). Vaughn’s character is also the usual one we’ve seen him play so many times in the past. Ok, what saved the movie for me in a way were Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade. It there were some chuckles, it would be because of these two. They were solid in their roles, despite the fact that they were underused in the script. Too bad, that the writing focused on the weakest characters played by the more mainstream names, rather than revolving the script into what could’ve been more interesting.
It also does not help when the film’s direction felt a little confused. I mean, there were times that it felt that it wanted to be one of those cheeky horror-parody movies such “Slither”, but it focused too much on its foul-mouthed dialogue to pull it off. There is some action to be had with the film, as our group gets to clash with some ugly looking aliens who looked like rejects from the movies “District 9”, “The Arrival” and “Alien Vs. Predator”. The alien creatures are pretty strong, and feral-looking with a weakness that can make one crack up. There is some rather mild blood and gore, but by no means would this turn off mainstream viewers.
The passing of Trayvon Martin affected this movie by causing the studios to rework its marketing campaign. I’ve read that the studio changed its title from “Neighborhood Watch” into “The Watch” and went to focus on the “alien” device rather than its characters. Maybe in some ways, it affected expectations, but they shouldn‘t have stopped there and made steps to rework the script. The film had a barely passable screenplay and while it did have a few laughs and some nudity (way to reach out to alien beings is through an orgy), “The Watch” fails as a comedy or an alien-buddy flick if you prefer. Ayaode and Hill were the highlights of the movie as they struggled with “staple characters” played by Stiller and Vaughn. It was just too bad, this should have been a fun, cheeky, raunchy alien-invasion comedy if it had disposed of the boring subplots and focused on its strengths. It did have some chuckles, but I am not so sure if it would be a worthwhile “watch” just for its little amount of humor.
Star Rating: Last summer saw the release of Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens, a film that quite inexplicably found the right balance between a science fiction alien invasion thriller and a western, two disparate genres if ever there were any. Now we have The Watch, in which a hostile alien takeover has been paired with a raunchy buddy comedy. This time around, something went horribly wrong. The genres don’t mesh. Perhaps they could have in the … more