The demographic seems a little confusing for The Watch. Originally titled Neighborhood Watch but changed shortly after the death of Trayvon Martin and that neighborhood watch incident in Florida. The film stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Oscar nominee Jonah Hill and newcomer Richard Ayoade who is actually an indie filmmaker in his own right (see Submarine (2010) and the documentary Arctic Monkey’s at The Apollo (2008)). These guys all look and feel late thirties to forties in age, and their suburban surroundings in The Watch probably add more years. So when they start talking like teenagers, or the staff of Smart Tech, the electronics store in Judd Apatow’s 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), it’s at times funny but also sort of off. As in off when an older dude starts cracking jokes at a teen party. Like the older neighbor that pops into the party in Project X (one of the best films of 2012). It works when teens are around, as is the case in one scene from The Watch, but for the most part it’s four older dudes running around looking for a) a murderer, then later searching for b) a possible alien, and c) laughs at the box office. One thing for sure we could all use more comedy so I’m going to circle c.
The Story: It’s the suburbs of Ohio (though the film is shot in Atlanta but with no Atlanta landmarks to spot) and Ben Stiller’s Evan discovers one of his Costco employees is murdered. He forms a neighborhood watch with whoever will join the “club.” Turns out three dudes looking for “action” in the ‘burbs show up. They cruise the neighborhood looking for killers, while drinking beer, and discover a possible extra terrestrial connection to the killing. Tackling this case could change a lot for each of them because essentially they have nothing to lose. Bob (Vaughn) is home a lot with his teen daughter while his wife travels for work; Franklin (Hill) is a knife-wielding man-child who lives at home, who reminds us often that he has failed to get accepted to the local police department; and Jamarcus (Ayoade) who has a sexual fantasy he wishes to play out while on neighborhood watch. Stiller’s Evan has issues as well, some “childbearing” problems at home that keep him occupied with things other than his wife, but for the most part he’s serious as hell about the task at hand.
The Goods: These guys are funny together and we could potentially see sequels to The Watch. Essentially you’re getting what you pay for. Vaughn does his long winded speeches, and he’s more juvenile here than ever (and for the record, since Swingers (1996), Old School (2003) and Wedding Crashers (2005) I’ll see anything with Vaughn in it, even his despicably charming Fred Claus (2007)). Stiller does his straight-laced, retentive normal bit from films like Along Came Polly (2004) and those Focker movies; Hill does his Cyrus (2010) bit in his new 21 Jump Street body instead of his usual shticky self from The Sitter (2011) or Superbad (2007)…this is what you would expect from this cast (sans Will Ferrell) and it’s exactly what you get. It’s the kind of cast and performances I’ve happily paid to see in the past and would venture through heat and snow to see again.
The Flaws: But I’m perplexed when the end credits roll. There’s a little blood and body decapitation that is way out of context with the rest of how this movie presents itself, and that’s the film’s biggest problem. If they had made it a horror film like all the other horror films, such as Cabin in the Woods, using these four comedians, then we’d have a real attempt at big summer entertainment. The fact the film is book-ended with voice-over from Stiller’s character is kind of cheap…why not V.O. through the whole film? V.O. is very character centric so you get the feeling the film will really be about Evan all the way, like say Lindsay Lohan’s character in Mean Girls (2004). That single perspective, that narcissism, through the whole film can draw a crowd in, get the audience sympathizing more with a main protagonist. But it doesn’t.
As it is now The Watch is a solid date movie in the sense it comes very close to crossing some raunchy Apatow-Sandler lines but never fully steps over, presenting itself confused in who it wants to please. But it’s safe enough that a wider audience of grown men and women could enjoy it without getting too embarrassed or self-conscious while watching. Well yeah more men will enjoy this movie—men between 30 and 50—but the fact it feels watered down is a sign of problems. That it doesn’t take any real risks is what will keep it from catching cult status stardom like The Hangover films or any of the Vaughn films I mentioned above.
The Call: With that being said I still feel it’s better than movies like Pineapple Express (2008) and 30 Minutes or Less (2011) (two Danny McBride films, only by coincidence), and way better (but similar) to Couples Retreat (2009). Stow the dough. The Watch will be one to rent or see in the dollar theater. Director Akiva Schaffer is part of the Saturday Night Live writing team and part of the digital shorts dynamic duo with Adam Sandberg. He directed Hod Rod (2007) with Sandberg and is also part of the Lonely Island comedy team. With these kinds of credits I would expect something a little more…random, and playful…more improvised. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express, The Green Hornet (2010)) and Jared Stern (Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2011)) wrote the screenplay.
Rated R for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images. Running time is a cool 1 hour and 38 minutes.
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