A film review by Craig J. Koban July 30, 2012

THE WATCH j
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2012, R, 100 mins.

 

Evan: Ben Stiller / Bob: Vince Vaughn / Franklin Jonah Hill / Jamarcus: Richard Ayoade / Abby: Rosemarie DeWitt / Sgt. Bressman: Will Forte / Manfred: R. Lee Ermey

Directed by Akiva Schaffer / Written by Jared Stern and Seth Rogen.

THE WATCH is one of those repulsively smug comedies that thinks itís a hell of a lot funnier than it actual is.  

Considering the relative A-grade comedic talent on board here, the film is aggressively lacking in actual hearty laughs.  Hereís a would-be high concept sci-fi-comedy written by one of the co-scribes of SUPERBAD and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (Seth Rogen) and staring the likes of Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, and Jonah Hill that feels not only messily and lazily scripted, but forces its talent to wallow in scene after scene of borderline infantile comic desperation.  THE WATCH should have been a proverbial grand slam home run for its mish-mashed genre, but instead I left the theater after screening it truly perplexed by its numbing mediocrity.   

The overall premise for the film of four adults from the suburbs that find themselves involved in an alien invasion in their own neighborhood seems to bare an uncanny resemblance to last yearís ATTACK THE BLOCK.  Yet, the alien angle in the film never feels like it actually belongs in THE WATCH because it has less interest in telling a compelling story involving these strange invaders than it does with showing its stars in endless moments of improvisational Ė and shockingly crude - shenanigans.  Thatís just one of the larger set of issues with this film: Very rarely does it appear that the writers had any clue as to where the story was heading, relying in its place on the appeal of the actors to guide viewers through scenes of hopeful knee-slapping hilarity.  The overwhelmingly feeling I got all through the film was that its proven stars have been stranded in a DOA screenplay and were forced to bare the burden of carrying the lackluster material. 

Worse yet is that the film has the single worst and most egregiously obvious usage of blatant product placement this side of a lamer than lame Adam Sandler flick.  Ben Stiller plays Evan, a highly prideful and anal retentive Ohioan Costco manager that gets deeply disturbed when one of his graveyard shifted security men gets brutally murdered.  Predictably, the local police officers on scene (one played by Will Forte, whose bumbling cop gets a few chuckles) are of absolutely no use at all, so Evan takes it upon himself to form his own neighborhood watch group to uncover the real reason and perpetrator behind his employeeís sudden death.   

 

 

Evan pleads his case at a local football game during half time (which never once generates any comic momentum) and prepares an initial meeting at his home, complete with detailed brochures and a slideshow.  Only three locals show up: thereís the hot-headed, impulsive, and throw-caution-to-the-wind Bob (Vince Vaughn); Franklin (Jonah Hill), a high school drop-out that never got into the police force and has a bone to pick with life in general; and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) who just seems to be a peculiar dude with perverted sexual proclivities.  These four mismatched men decide to make prowling their local areas on a nightly basis their number one priority, but when the do discover that the killer is not of this earth, the foursome realize that they have they work cut out for them when it appears that the entire world may need saving. 

A majority of the film feels like it was largely made up as it went along without any concerns as to narrative intrigue or cohesion.   The aliens themselves seem like unwanted and regurgitated designs from far lesser extra-terrestrial films (that, and the notion that they can assume human form is one of the most overused and unoriginal ideas, like, ever).  Something needs to be said about how director Akiva Shaffer (who made the very funny HOT ROD) and his stars create scenes of would-be amusement.  THE WATCH was original intended to be an audience-friendly PG-13 and then later morphed into a more adult-oriented R.  I have no problem, per se, with a foul and lewd film that is unapologetically so, but the way THE WATCH methodically dishes out chronic vulgarity, deplorable gross out gags, constant references to male and female genitalia, and so forth shows a relative lack of inspiration in the film.  Naughty words donít bother me when they accentuate laughs, but this film ostensibly uses them for laughs.   

The characters have filthy-minded discussions so often itís kind of a depressing turn-off after awhile, which is not assisted by how often the actors bellow out their lines as if the audience were all deaf (the usually "money" Vince Vaughn is the film's big offender in this category).  There are scenes that go on and on and on and try to develop a satisfying comic payoff that never occurs.  Just consider one sequence Ė that the makers believe is a real scream Ė when the guys all sit in Evanís car on a stakeout of the Costco.  The motor mouthed Bob has to pee, and after discussing it at ad nauseam he decides to urinate into an empty beer car, during which he describes in pornographic detail how he can stop and start at will and how close he can get the tip of his penis to the metal without spilling a drop.  Then there's a later scene when the guys go to sickening lengths to describe how the alien's blood feels just like one particular male bodily fluid that's neither urine or feces.  Silence filled the cinema that I was in while watching these scenes and more; laughs, alas, were all but vacant. 

To exacerbate matters, THE WATCH inexcusably and unwisely throws in a few unnecessary subplots of dramatic interest, which creates a really odd disconnect from the type of bawdy material built around it.  There is one side-story that contributes nothing involving Evanís wife (the fantastic Rosemary Dewitt, who frankly looks embarrassed here) and how he keeps his sterility a secret from her.   Then there is Bobís insatiable need to be overprotective of his daughter when sheís dating a preening and masochistic teen thatís looking to score.  And donít get me started on one tired and failed subplot involving Evanís new neighbor (played by Billy Crudup, in the great WTF? casting of 2012) who seems to have an almost fetishistic appreciation for Evanís muscle tone and skin type.  Evan thinks the man is gay, but then later thinks he may be an alien intruder.  The film predictably plays a highly foreseeable bit of bait and switch with Crudupís character with a potentially shocking and funny reveal thatís simply neither of those two descriptors. 

There is one genuine laugh in THE WATCH that occurs during the filmís action-packed climax where the gang is at Costco and decide that they need walkie-talkies, but they pathetically fail at trying to quickly open their impossibly tight plastic packaging in a moment of life or death.  That was funny.  And, yes, the film does at least build to a somewhat exciting conclusion pitting multiple aliens versus hapless heroes deep within the  Costco catacombs (don't ask) that generates the filmís only legitimate hair-raising moment of exhilaration.  The rest of THE WATCH, though, is a dull, tired, half-assed, an undisciplined homogenization of the alien invasion thriller with the dick/fart/and bodily fluid obsessed bromance comedy that comes across like it was penned by puerile 12-year-olds.  For Vaughn, Stiller, and Hill Ė who have been memorably hysterical throughout their careers - the film has easy-paycheck written all over it. 

One last thing: itís amazing that the studio decided to change the filmís original title of NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH to just THE WATCH in the wake Trayvon Martin being killed by an armed Floridian NW volunteer to avoid any unflattering associations that could offend viewers.  Funny, but THE WATCH is not offensive for creating such associations at all, but rather emerges as just an offensively bad film and waste of time.             

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