At some point, there was probably a good movie in what eventually became The Watch, the 2012 special effects comedy about an alien invasion in a quiet Ohio suburb and the four guys who have to stop it. You don't attract the kind of talent found in the movie -- which includes stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Will Forte and Richard Ayoade (best known from the cult British sitcom The IT Crowd), plus director Akiva Schaeffer (one third of The Lonely Island) and writers Jared Stern, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. The movie has in impressive pedigree. It has flashes of inspiration. What happened?
Stiller stars as Evan, a manager at Costco and "involved citizen" who starts up a neighborhood watch program after one of his employees is brutally and mysteriously murdered. The newly formed group consists of Bob (Vaughn), happy suburban dad who's growing increasingly more concerned about the social life of his teenage daughter; Franklin (Hill), a possible sociopath looking for a position of authority after being denied acceptance to the police department, and Jamarcus, about whom very little is actually known. What begins as an excuse for the guys to get together and hang out very quickly turns a lot more bizarre and dangerous as the neighborhood watch uncovers more unexplained phenomenon, extraterrestrial weaponry and, eventually, evidence of a full-scale alien invasion.
The Watch is yet another attempt to combine a Hollywood with a big-budge special effects movie, but the movie doesn't fail just because it gets the balance of those elements wrong (even though it does). It fails because there are just too many movies struggling for dominance, all of which have a conflicting tone and sense of humor. It wants to be Old School meets Independence Day -- frustrated middle-aged men desperately looking for an outlet, who find it when hostile aliens try to take over the planet. Whether it's the result of studio interference, or stars throwing their weight around (there are a few scenes that feel like they're in the movie just to build up a movie star part) or just Schaeffer not knowing exactly what he wanted, The Watch is a completely schizophrenic comedy. A number of scenes go on four times as long as they should, from unnecessary exposition sequences which provide wholly unnecessary background for the Stiller and Vaughn characters to seemingly improvised rants between Vaughn and Hill, almost always of a sexual nature. Characters are given tons of back story and "motivation," but to no end. Other characters are there just out of convenience to the plot. For as funny as all of the actors in The Watch are capable of being, none of them really share any chemistry with one another; since no one is ever really sure who they're playing (characters change from one scene to the next), there's no sense of four different personalities bouncing off one another. Stiller is funny for the first few minutes -- when he actually has a character to play -- but quickly just becomes the unfunny straight man he's been forced to play so many times. Vaughn pretty much steamrolls any scene he's in, so that too much of the movie becomes the Vince Vaughn Show. Ayoade is the most interesting and comes off the best, probably because he's the least known commodity and isn't doing something we've seen him do dozens of times before. Naturally, the movie has little idea what to do with him.
There are moments when the movie that The Watch could have been (or perhaps even was at some point) come into focus -- when the confidence and sense of form that Shaeffer consistently demonstrates in his Digital Shorts on SNL is on display (his Lonely Island bandmates Jorma Taccone and Andy Samberg appear in a dirty cameo), or when the movie allows the characters be funny and not just rely on the same tired raunch found in every R-rated comedy. There are a handful of laughs and flashes of personality in The Watch, but the movie ends up as a flat imitation of what it could have been. This one just appears to have gotten away from everyone.
- The Watch is rated R for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images.
- Release Date: 7/27/12
- Running Time: 101 minutes
- Studio: 20th Century Fox