Neither an in-depth look at the internal mechanisms of a specific timepiece, nor a noir-ish character study of some tortured voyeur peering through grime-encrusted blinds at hapless young dames … consider The Watch as a lame monster mash-up. Compared to earlier sci-fi comedies starring disparate teams who engage in otherworldly smackdowns – such as Men in Black, Ghostbusters and Evolution — this movie is so confused about what it is, it can barely negotiate one alert walk down a short neighborhood block.
The neighborhood in question is Glenview, Ohio, a sleepy suburb of dullish folks who live in McMansions that don’t quite match the economy of the ‘hood. (Not a plot point but, rather, just one of many confounding miscues.) Our protagonist is Ben Stiller’s civic-minded Evan, McMansion owner and senior manager of the local CostCo. When the store’s night watchman is murdered (his skin taken along with his life), Evan decides to recruit a neighborhood crime watch committee to investigate further. (Another illogical plot point: While Evan is initially urged on by Will Forte’s Police Sergeant Bressman to help the understaffed eight-member police force, Bressman then goes out of his way to undermine any actions that Evan & Co. subsequently attempt.)
Even with his painstakingly designed flyers and impassioned speeches, Evan only manages to recruit three somewhat indifferent members: Vince Vaughn’s Bob, looking to escape the problems of raising a willful teenage daughter by hanging with new pals in his mancave; Jonah Hill’s Franklin, living at home with mom, nursing a grudge at the police who rejected his efforts to join the force; and Richard Ayoade’s Jamarcus, divorced and hoping that the group will help him to sexually connect with hot Asian women. And so, sporting brand new jackets emblazoned with flying tiger logos, the Neighborhood Watch is ready to take on evil wherever it lurks. That said, when they encounter green goo and a mysterious tentacle belonging to god-knows-what, and when they find a strange, bowling ball-like device that can blow up a cow in a single blast … they realize they just may be out of their league, combatting something that just may be out of this world. But do they ask for help? Of course not.
Adding to the story of an alien invasion, we get a subplot about Stiller’s Evan who’s unable to tell his supportive yet frustrated wife that he’s sterile. While that thread could work in a searching family dramedy, to toss it here, into this film? Among exploding cows and green slime Nickelodeon jokes? Talk about your alien concepts …
Initially entitled Neighborhood Watch, the studio decided to rename the film in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s fatal shooting last February. Per Fox, “As the subject matter of this alien invasion comedy bears no relation whatsoever to the recent tragic events in Florida, the studio altered the title to avoid any accidental or unintended misimpression that it might.” A move that made perfect sense. But that may have been the last shred of rationale exercised. To wit: the film is so juvenile, it seems perfect for tweens. But the R-rated, over-the-top sex content precludes that demographic. The tone varies between a tepid Ghostbuster-like parody, intercut with earnest buddy-buddy scenes. The men may not be as moronic and naïve as, say, the Three Stooges … yet they often act in a similar vein. E.g., knowing they have a limited supply of ammunition, they use almost all of it up on one target. No one is concerned about bringing a nuclear bowling ball into Bob’s house; ditto an alien that may or may not be dead. And without any sort of combatant training, doesn’t anyone consider calling for professional help? The CIA? The FBI? An extant Ghostbuster?
Written by Jared Stern and the team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, there are some rare funny lines sprinkled in. The CostCo references are priceless, as are some of Jonah Hill’s takes and Richard Ayoade’s line readings. But these glimmers of comedy are sporadic at best, and can’t rescue the film from itself. While it’s nice to see Stiller try out a kindler, gentler version of his beleaguered everyman, Vaughn is once again relegated to the role of the obnoxious motor-mouth who often appears utterly soulless.
It’s called The Watch … but you may want to reconsider.
Rating on a scale of 5 reasons for McGruff the Crime Dog to take yet one more bite out of crime: 2
Release date: July 27, 2012
Directed by: Akiva Schaffer
Written by: Jared Stern and Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Cast: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt, Will Forte
Running Time: 98 minutes