Starring Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill & Vince Vaughn
Directed by Akiva Schaffer
R, 102 min.
Released July 27, 2012
Four suburban citizen patrollers find themselves facing down an army of space aliens in “The Watch,” a comedy that sounds funnier than it turns out to be.
Ben Stiller stars as the coordinator of a motley neighborhood watch group, rounded out by Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and British comedian Richard Ayoade. Assembled in response to a gruesome murder the local cops seem (conveniently, for the story’s sake) powerless to solve, the quartet of volunteer bumblers discovers their sleepy little Ohio hamlet is actually ground zero for a major extraterrestrial attack.
Of course, no one believes them—which makes their mission to thwart the invasion’s advance party all the harder.
To say the movie has problems is an understatement. For starters, there’s the title. It started out as “Neighborhood Watch,” but that phrase became toxic in the aftermath of the shooting and killing of an unarmed Florida teen, Treyvon Martin, by a neighborhood watch organizer, George Zimmerman, in February.
So the word “neighborhood” was dropped and the title became simply “The Watch.”
But the stigma lingers—especially in a scene in which “the watch” apprehends a miscreant, egg-tossing teenager, roughs him up and verbally humiliates him before handing him over to the police. It’s meant to be riotously funny, but the chuckles choke themselves out before rising into the laughs they were intended to become.
Much of the other jokes are equally miscalculated—a crude locker-room cocktail of crass bathroom humor, scatological riffing and boys-with-toys weapons revelry that often goes on WAY too long, far after any given gag should have run its natural course or found a punch line.
Just in case four guys trash-talking isn’t entertaining enough, the filmmakers throw in a meandering subplot about one character’s fertility woes, another loose thread about a rebellious teenage daughter and the dude who wants to bed her, and a creepy next-door neighbor. Oh yeah, and there’s also an orgy—just so there can be an orgy—with a definitely not-ready-for-prime-time cameo from “Saturday Night Live” star Andy Samberg.
The four main stars seem comfortable working together, so comfortable that Stiller, Vaughn and Hill all seem to fall lazily back into characters that they’ve played in comedies many times before: Nobody’s stretching out of their comfort zone, that’s for sure. It’s hard to tell just how much of the dialogue was improvised on the spot, but you get the impression a lot of it was spun on the fly.
You also get the impression that “The Watch” is one long, feature-length commercial for Costco. As the workplace of Stiller’s character, the giant retail outlet is the stage for several extended scenes, including the explosive finale, its motto is incorporated into the script, and its products are everywhere. Talk about a marketing plug!
Anyone who’s been to an R-rated comedy in the modern era pretty much knows what to expect from R-rated comedies these days, but this one merits a special notation. It’s amazing how much thought, effort and creative energy “The Watch” works into its script about human—and space-alien—crotches.
Almost everyone associated with “The Watch” (including Seth Rogen, one of the writers, and the supporting cast, which includes “Mad Men” actress Rosemarie Dewitt, ex-military-man character actor R. Lee Ermey and “Saturday Night Live”’s Will Forte) has made better movies than this, a moronic comedy that aims low—but, for what little it’s worth, repeatedly hits its target.