It took me long enough but I finally went out to see this past weekend’s only real major release (I refuse to recognize Step Up 4 as a real movie). While some of the material in the trailers and promotional material seemed like it might be good for some cheap, dumb fun, I had also seen a huge amount of negative feedback from sources across the board (14% on Rotten Tomatoes and a dismal C+ from CinemaScore) so I lowered my expectations quite a bit. As is the usual case, that lowering of expectations made it easier for me to enjoy a lot more of the movie than I would have otherwise, and while I still don’t think it deserves the full extent of the critical revulsion that it has received, The Watch is nevertheless an uncomfortable mix of Comedy, Action and Horror that fails to live up to even the most modest of expectations considering the strength of the central cast.
There really isn’t much to talk about here, by which I mean the plot plays out pretty much exactly how you would expect it to. When one of his employees is gruesomely murdered in the Costco he manages, community activist Evan decides to take matters into his own hands and form a Neighborhood Watch association. He is joined by Vince Vaughn essentially playing himself as Bob, Jonah Hill as the mentally unstable Police Academy Dropout Frank, and Richard Ayoade’s Jamarcus as the double whammy black and British additions to the cultural rainbow of friends that Evan takes so much pride in. Together they hang out, drink, and make vague and half-assed efforts to find the murderer until they stumble across an impending alien invasion of the Earth. From there we have to sit through about half an hour of R rated Hardy boy style investigation by the four Watchmen until the final showdown in the bowels of the almighty Costco.
With such big names in the cast, I expected more out of the characters in the movie than I was given at nearly every turn. The combination of Vaughn, Stiller and Hill should have been a mini comedy-dream-team along the lines of Anchorman or Dodgeball (both of which featured Vaughn and Stiller in at least peripheral roles), but none of the aforementioned actors are anywhere near enough to the top of their game to make this happen. Stiller’s character is much too straight laced to be very interesting and reminded me a lot of his roles as a stereotypical “Square” (i.e. Starsky and Hutch, The Heartbreak Kid, Envy, basically anything he isn’t funny in). Stiller is best when he is at his most ridiculous, and I’ve never understood why he continues to play “normal guy” roles when he has always been his funniest in over-the-top self depricating roles like his characters in Zoolander or Tropic Thunder. Jonah Hill is perfectly fine here, but the writers just didn’t give him enough funny lines to make his character stand out from much of his other recent work. As I said, Vince Vaughn is right in his wheelhouse here but it just doesn’t work with the rest of the movie like it has in movies like Wedding Crashers. In my opinion, for Vince Vaughn to really be funny he needs an equally Vaughn-ish character to play off of (like Owen Wilson) and he just doesn’t have that here. Finally, I actually did find myself enjoying Richard Ayoade as Jamarcus. Anyone who has seen him in the British comedy “The IT Crowd” will recognize his awkwardly smiling demeanor, and while his character was the least featured of the four I found myself wishing they’d given him a bit more to do.
This is where the movie really should have soared, but it ended up being the film’s biggest stumbling point. Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express) and directed by Akiva Schaffer of The Lonely Island (See any recent Saturday Night Live Digital Short) the film should’ve been able to combine the manic action comedy aspects of Pineapple Express with the frank yet witty back and forth banter of Superbad, but that was not the case here. Instead of all-out action, The Watch feels feels more like a horror comedy until the last half hour which creates some very jarring transitions for the audience. As far as the witty banter, there is definitely some of it here and there are a few scenes in which I felt like I got a brief glimpse of how great this movie could have been, but every one of those scenes was followed up by awkwardly drawn out scatology or just flat out unfunny lines. From the writing standpoint, it felt like the movie couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be an SNL spin off or an Apatow-style Raunchfest, resulting in an uneasy mix of the worst qualities in both.
The Verdict: 4.5/10 Sub-Par
For those of you who read my Movie Confessions post, you might recognize that Akiva Schaffer also directed the movie I listed as my guilty please film: Hot Rod. While I’m not going to try to claim that that movie was “good”, it at least relied more on its stars’ likability and never deviated from its none-too-serious tone. The Watch on the other hand is all over the place with its stars’ likability as well as its genre leanings, and while some of my favorite movies to watch have been Genre Mash-ups (See Zombieland or Cabin in the Woods) it takes much more craftsman ship to make that sort of film work and that craftsmanship is simply absent in this movie. I will admit that there were more than a few times I found myself entertained by the movie, and some of the character actions are pretty fun to watch. However, those moments are too few and far between to really support the film by themselves, and because of that I can only recommend this movie as a DVD choice if you’re in the mood for the sort of low-brow raunch it occasionally provides.
Tune in Later this week as I dig into the sort of political correctness concerns that caused the producers to change the name of the film from The Neighborhood Watch to simply The Watch following the circumstances surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin at the hand of a trigger happy watchman.