Rating: 14A – Coarse Language, Sexual Content, Graphic Violence
Run Time: 102 minutes
Part of me wants to buy the grouping of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and the British bloke Richard Ayoade as neighborhood watch for a small town in an Ohioan suburb. Sounds like comedy. Just how when Homer Simpson ran one in a memorable episode of The Simpsons, aptly entitled “Homer the Vigilante”. Our yellow-skinned cartoonish blowhard’s definition of cleaning up his town, Springfield, was to “you know, push people around, make ourselves feel big.”
There, we’re laughing. But something about The Watch doesn’t garner the giggles. It’s not terrible, just kinda boring. Despite an opening narration (by Stiller) that, using a Rod Serling baritone, satirically muses on the existence of aliens The Watch never becomes a smart blend of commuter-belt shenanigans and science-fiction. Seth Rogen, who cowrote this script with Jared Stern and Evan Goldberg, was in similar territory with the very slightly better Paul. So science-fiction may inspire Rogen, but not necessarily his creativity.
The issue falls under The Watch’s labored effort to gross out its audience. The myriad of jokes surrounding the male anatomy is more the source of our malaise. Events keep grinding to a halt so the characters can shove vulgarity down our throats. The pace becomes haphazard, tone infinitely changes gears, and nothing properly develops. There are sub-themes on parenthood and friendship, but it is jostled out by the film’s abrasively crude attitude.
The best part about The Watch are, fortunately, our 4 leads. Stiller as Evan; Vaughn as Bob; Hill as Franklin; and Ayoade as Jamarcus. They don’t embody these characters, but themselves. This is fine since these comics are cut from different cloths: Stiller’s staidness, Vaughn’s raucous volatility, Hill’s puppy-dog charm, and Ayoade’s C-3PO deadpan. They function in partnership as believable pals out to do a little justice.
The kind that involves saving their town, Glendale, from an armada of exoskeletal aliens. They dwell beneath a local Costco, because, well, everything they need is under one roof. We first learn of their existence with the death of a Costco security guard, which inspires Evan to lay down the law. The cops think they’re a joke, and that’s the point. No one took the Keystone Cops seriously.
Nevertheless, The Watch never really flows. It is overstuffed with vulgar puns and crass humour, but only so much of it truly lands. The subplots around this alien/buddy caper, including Bob’s daughter and Evan’s suspiciously seductive neighbour (Billy Crudup), are shallow, distractingly digressive, and don’t have a flavourful comedic raison d’etre. Their slim arcs conclude on contrivances in lieu of payoffs.
There is plenty of comedy thrown at the screen, but so little of it sticks. Even a scene with Full Metal Jacket’s R. Lee Ermey as – what else? – a raving, shotgun-wielding war veteran just feels out of place.
Perhaps this is because too much of The Watch is arbitrary and sloppily structured, which is a red flag for a comedy daring to blend disparate genres. Fault may fall on director Akiva Schaffer, a filmmaker I don’t know much of, other than for his work with comedy troupe The Lonely Island and that in this film’s credits he plays a “Casual Wanker”. There’s a character worthy of our well-earned money. The Watch on its own robs us of ours, making these four do-gooders opponents of their own law-abiding principle.