Every so often a film comes along that becomes a victim of circumstance. THE WATCH had already suffered a name change to separate itself from the unfortunate neighborhood watch shooting in Florida and to add insult to injury the week following its release the Aurora theater shooting happens. Two acts of gun violence leading up to its release and one of them involving a neighborhood watch- both things (irresponsible gun use and a neighborhood watch that is) are the subject of jokes within THE WATCH. In hindsight pushing the release back could have been a blessing for this film in terms of box office receipts, but it still wouldn’t have made it any better in quality. THE WATCH aims to answer the question no one was asking- what if someone took ATTACK THE BLOCK, set it in suburban America and tasked a sex obsessed teenager to write the script? What you get is poorly conceived characters and plot twists with a barrage of hit and miss raunchy sex jokes mistakenly taking main stage to a sort of cool alien invasion side plot.
Yes, you heard it correctly, there is an alien invasion present in THE WATCH, which was absent from the initial trailers. My best guess says that it was only because the actual alien stuff in the film shows up for a short period of time before it goes back to dude bonding time and clumsily makes its way back around to a twist that leads back into the more action centered finale. The majority of the film is spent introducing Evan (Ben Stiller) as a uptight sterile husband that can’t talk to his baby crazy wife about his problem as he creates club after club all the way up to making a neighborhood watch after a murder at the Costco that he manages. At the meeting only Bob, Franklin and Jamarcus (played by Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade) show up and are interested only in some male bonding time that includes drinking and telling nasty jokes. From there it’s a back and forth of bonding time, alien fight, more bonding time, alien stuff, more bonding time, alien investigation more bonding time as they investigate and finally the finale. It could be a winning formula if there weren’t so many unfunny jokes to make it boring and making me wish it had more alien centered stuff to pull me back in.
I don’t really feel strongly enough about Ben Stiller’s comedic decline just yet, but THE WATCH really gave me a startling look into what it will be like when that day is undoubtedly here. I found Stiller’s performance here one of his worst in a long time, even compared to his wheel spinning performances in the MEET THE FOCKERS and LITTLE FOCKERS. His role here is boring and irritating- the same can be said for Jonah Hill, who I normally really enjoy especially coming off 21 JUMP STREET. Hill has a few moments here and there, but is largely overmatched when it comes to the sheer amount of jokes that Vince Vaughn shoots through in short amounts of time. Vaughn, another act that’s beginning to feel overly one note is able to talk so fast and furious that he’s able to burn through huge chunks of jokes both good and bad, which in the end either accents how bad the script or lack of a script there was or doesn’t give much time enjoy the genuinely funny lines. Vaughn is easily the highlight though as I laughed way more at his character than all of the others combined.
THE WATCH failed to grab my attention right from the get go, failed to set things up in a satisfying or interesting way and once it succeeded at showing me something cool it takes it away and goes back to everything that’s least interesting about it. From the trailers I fully expected there to be plenty of time spent with the guys trading rapid fire dialogue and jokes back and forth- to what extent, I may not been underestimated a bit. Once the group finally stumbles across the whole alien plot I thought things would pick up and in some ways it did. The alien looked really cool and for the most part the effects were practical and even when they weren’t the CGI was quite good. All of the alien stuff I found to be what was drawing me in, but as soon as I was drifting into maybe not being aggressively bored the aliens were gone and I once again returned to my slouched position in my seat.
The actors aren’t given much to work with except excessive amounts of bodily fluid jokes. Vaughn and Stiller have the deepest conversation in the whole movie that involves Stiller’s inability to talk to his wife and Vaughn’s struggle with a teenage daughter and when the two clash it lasts for all of 5 minutes and then they are best buds again. There’s very little conflict in the film to sink your teeth into and the whole plot device of Stiller being sterile holds almost no weight especially after he finally does let the cat out of the bag. My favorite side character played by Billy Crudup I found quite funny in spite of how manipulative it is to the plot when it comes to trying to lead the audience to or away from any mystery. The eventual payoff for the character doesn’t have a satisfying end and just made me roll my eyes at how clever and sneaky the script thought it was being.
In the end THE WATCH is a misguided exercise in vulgarity where everyone involved believes that lack of story and ideas would take a backseat to the perceived raunchy antics of the immensely recognizable cast. Decent alien effects and half a handful of very funny jokes ends up cheapened by poorly fleshed out characters and boring set ups to make the film an instantly forgettable sci fi comedy. Vaughn stands out as the highlight of the cast while Stiller stands out as one of the most boring characters I’ve seen on screen so far this year. Unoriginal, forcibly vulgar and surprisingly dull, THE WATCH is one stakeout that napping through it isn’t only justified, but encouraged.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)