The Watch Review: A Missed Opportunity

A callback to District 9 perhaps?

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.

The Plot:

Not the Boys in Blue you were looking for, but they’re here anyway

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.

The Players: 

How many times can you make the same fingering joke in one movie? Apparently a lot

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.

The Writing:

An example “The Watch” I would rather stare at for two hours

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

Why couldn’t they have just made a cinematic version of the Lonely Island song Incredibad?

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.

About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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8 Responses to The Watch Review: A Missed Opportunity

  1. Jane says:

    The movie didn’t look appealing from the trailers, but I loved your example! Very funny stuff!

  2. atothewr says:

    I figured this movie might be like this. I also don’t think they should have changed the name. I think the movie industry sometimes makes a snap decision when they don’t need to. Nice review.

    • r361n4 says:

      Yeah, I agree with you on the name change here but I think there are plenty of situations in which the movie industry is smart to tone down the politically charged aspects of a film if for no other reason than preventing the politics from distracting the audience from more important parts of the movie (I.e. people complaining about the Occupy Themes in Dark Knight Rises in spite of how much more was going on in the film)

  3. Good review, I think you are right on with your thoughts on when these actors are funniest. However, I would throw Meet The Parents in as an argument to your Ben Stiller theory. I still think the biggest problem with this movie was that it was re-written by Rogen and Goldberg. Not an original idea from them. Basically a patched together script.

    • r361n4 says:

      The funny thing is when I was writing about the whole “Square” role thing for Stiller that movie popped into my head as a counterargument as well. I think it worked for him in that movie but I also think that other movies have been trying to replicate the success of his character in that film and most haven’t even come close. I think the issue is that in MTP he was essentially just a normal guy, but they’ve been making him more and more uptight in movies like this and Along Came Polly that it just becomes almost a whole different character that I simply don’t enjoy watching

      Also totally agree on the patched together feeling of the script, I’m curious as to how it would’ve turned out if they’d have just kept the same writers the whole way through filming. I guess we’ll never know

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