Directed by: Akiva Schaffer
Cast: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie Dewitt, Will Forte
Running Time: 1 hr 38 mins
Release Date: July 27, 2012
PLOT: After his employee is mysteriously murdered, small-town American Evan (Stiller) gathers together a Neighborhood Watch (featuring Vaughn, Hill, and Ayoade) to catch the killer.
WHO’S IT FOR?: You really have to like Vince Vaughn specifically to get into this one. Coming at it from any other fan angle, whether it be an appreciation for Stiller, Hill, Ayoade, or even Schaffer, director of the legendary Andy Samberg starring vehicle Hot Rod, is just grounds for disappointment.
EXPECTATIONS: Controversial last-quarter name change or not, The Watch has the comedy makings that could traverse unsurprisingly to greatness. Stiller and Vaughn have had high moments, Hill is at a peak (especially after 21 Jump Street), and Ayoade is a hit overseas (and a funny person to interview). On top of this, it comes from a script co-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who only screwed up a feature script when trying to resurrect John Hughes’ Drillbit Taylor story.
Ben Stiller as Evan: He’s a product of his environment. He’s a do-gooder, and also sees the positive characteristics in people he shares cheery suburban air with. Though he’s not particularly funny here, Stiller is serviceable as the straight man amongst this band of goofballs.
Vince Vaughn as Bob: There’s no other way to put this — Vaughn is just doing his Vince Vaughn thing. He speaks fast, he has an attitude, and he’s playing a character with regular guy problems (his daughter’s hormones). Vaughn might be more likable in this movie if it didn’t feel like he was tanking it almost every time he’s on-screen (which is a lot), making his easy-going attitude annoying more than anything else.
Jonah Hill as Franklin: The joke that Franklin is awkward and disturbed is played with no compelling complications, or enticing darkness. It’s a character type that gets old here, despite working in other comedies in the past. Hill is just along for the ride with a character who doesn’t offer much to the story or its characters but a weapons cache in the third act.
Richard Ayoade as Curtis: When he enters the movie (through Stiller’s front door), Ayoade provides an amusing nudge about the small town fear of “the other,” saying, “Most people are disappointed when they meet me.” Almost instantly after this, he becomes another unfunny drone in The Watch’s simple-minded fraternal shenanigans, whose joke is that he’s quiet and complacent with whatever. A twist in the third act does little to make this character interesting, or even revelatory to any fragment of sociological wit this movie might have.
TALKING: Could no one think of a new way to joke about buttf***ing? Jokes are redundant in their gross subject matter and well over-extended in their running time, trying to emphasize the “gag” in gag reel. If I listed other joke subjects I’m sure my mom would get mad at me. So if you’re curious, just eavesdrop on whatever a bunch of 15-year-old boys are talking about.
SIGHTS: The Watch makes a few small visual homages to other similar movies, like Alien, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There’s also a slow-motion gag in which a geeky character fires double pistols like he’s in an action movie, which is just as creative as the script’s usage of gangsta rap (see below). As for product placement, this movie has one of the most commercially grotesque explosions in recent history. There’s five seconds in The Watch in which the filmmakers take a break to sell laundry detergent.
SOUNDS: The long-used “gangsta rap” joke is utilized multiple times in The Watch, with the same ironic effect as always. Rap by Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and N.W.A. plays in the backdrop of scenes in which mostly white characters are trying to be tough in their small-town American settings.
BEST SCENE: The moment in which Stiller interrupts a high school football game to make a speech about Antonio Guzman’s murder is great. This is the movie’s height of funny, from his shirt that says “No More Murders” to the sincere proclamation he makes that “Our society has rules — you can’t kill someone and take their skin!”
ENDING: Jonah Hill goes in for a second kiss on DeWitt. I can’t blame him. Might as well try to make an impression on someone with this movie, right?
QUESTIONS: In the hands of different producers, and without Vince Vaughn, could this have been a better movie? What happened to this one?
REWATCHABILITY: No, thanks. It would be much too painful.
Viewers of Schaffer’s previous Hot Rod probably called that movie “silly,” and they were right. But like a comedy classic such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Hot Rod aced its silliness. With a training sequence that parodies Kevin Bacon’s angsty moment in Footloose (the funniest fall in movie history?), a random musical number of John Farnham’s “The Voice” juxtaposed with a violent riot, and more, Hot Rod put work into its oddball arsenal of jokes. Although its humor came within an aura that was no doubt inspired by the success of the small-town retro dryness of Napoleon Dynamite, it lifted its potential high above that of an aesthetic copycat. Hot Rod offered something for comedy lovers to chew on, even if a second viewing turned out to be more revelatory than the first.
This rediscovery is certainly not going to happen with Schaffer’s newest and biggest film, unless jokes about sodomy and gangsta rap music cues are suddenly considered creative by comedy standards. And speaking of standards, this movie isn’t just disappointing by Hot Rod standards, but basically by all standards. Everyone, even Ayoade, who only has BBC imports to his reputation in America, is known to be better than this melee of stale jokes reinforced by crushing laziness. And by “laziness,” I mean allowing an already casual Vince Vaughn joke about a nesting doll for a full minute.
The Watch bungles a concept that could have made for something successfully silly (a new Ghostbusters?), or even telling, considering its context. While moviegoers might have been made to think this movie has a stormy cloud over it considering the title change it faced inspired by this year’s Trayvon Martin case, this movie’s obstacles are created by no one else but itself. There are even moments in which The Watch teases audiences with commentary about the “alien” paranoia that causes awful events like Martin’s murder, like how Invasion of the Body Snatchers responded to McCarthyism in 1956. Instead, The Watch opts to stick to gags that are weakly stupid, which is the worst kind of silly.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10