Review: 'The Watch': Vulgar Comedy & Alien Thrills with Mixed Results
by Jeremy Kirk
July 27, 2012
Aliens are all the rage these days. Even the Frat Pack - Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn, at least - is going up against beings from outer space who want to wipe us out in gruesome fashion. The Watch, the film where all of that happens, is a fine comedy, able to produce laughter in nice, steady beats. There isn't much drama in the way, and in the end the jokes stick there on the screen not amounting to much. It won't go down with Frat Pack favorites like Anchorman or even Dodgeball, but with weird characters and a balls-to-the-wall attitude with the alien horror, at least The Watch tries to be somewhat memorable. More below!
Stiller plays Evan Trautwig, an overachiever to his community. Evan likes to create committees, so when a security guard at the Costco Evan manages turns up dead, the do-gooder takes it upon himself to establish a neighborhood watch. Only four residents join the watch, a variety of interesting guys played by Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade, and none of them take it seriously at first. However, once they all discover that something from another planet is wreaking havoc on their small, Ohio town, they decide to crack down and bust some alien skulls.
Jared Stern and Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg handled scripting duties here, with Akiva Schaffer of SNL Digital Shorts and Hot Rod fame taking the directing helm, and The Watch feels through and through like a film struggling with its multiple sides. On one hand are the leads, the four guys who appear on the film's poster walking with authority. The theme of people butting heads when they first meet but grow to earn respect for each other is predictable in how common it's become. Vaughn's Bob Finnerty is a guy who just wants to have fun and only joins the watch to keep tabs on his daughter's boyfriend. His character apparently has a wife, but her absence throughout the movie is more than a little awkward. Hill plays the rebellious Franklin, the kind of guy who tries to join the police force but fails every test they handed him. Ayoade, the real stand-out in the film, brings a flash of culture to Jamarcus, a recent divorcee who hopes the watch helps him meet women. Well, one type of woman in particular.
The bond built around these characters isn't handled haphazardly. The screenwriters and Schaffer find ways of working their development through the story of aliens landing on Earth. A montage of the guys blowing stuff up with a found, alien ray-gun is juvenile, but absolutely works with the friendship the four have developed. Even the overachieving Evan becomes giddy when a tractor blows up real good. The comedy in The Watch never gets as ridiculous as those aforementioned films. Instead, the film turns away from the envelope-pushing PG-13 rating for something more in-your-face. Schaffer has no qualms with making this a very R-rated alien invasion complete with bodies blowing up, stomachs getting ripped out, and skin being torn off. Even a cow bites it in explosive, graphic manner, but that one isn't the aliens' fault.
The mixture between the two tones of the film don't often work well. The first time blood flies up against a window, it's jarring, and it doesn't get much less so as the film progresses. By the time the third act of the film rolls around, and the aliens ultimate plan is revealed - it involves Costco, because they really do have everything you need - the Summer blockbuster side of The Watch, a third tone entirely, comes about complete with CG aliens and more CG aliens. The effects are fine. The design on the aliens is equally fine even if it's a little familiar. Drama isn't on the main course for this film, but when it does show up it's not exactly effective. A subplot involving Evan and his wife, played by the always solid Rosemarie DeWitt, trying to have a baby is sweet, adds a little depth to his character and why he's such an overachiever, but there's no real weight in it.
Not that there needs to be either. The Watch works best when it's trying to be funny, and though much credit goes to the screenwriters and the director, the cast in this film is almost entirely on fire all the way through. Ayoade is main among these, throwing out every one of Jamarcus' lines like an elegant jab that punches a laugh out of you. The little second or two after he delivers a joke and you just study his face waiting for a reaction is just as funny. Stiller and Vaughn do their best Stiller and Vaughn impersonations, nothing new for either but they're good at what they do. Hill's bug-eyed Franklin dishes out a healthy amount of humor, most of it working just fine due to the actor's cold delivery. Billy Crudup as Evan's eccentric and possibly alien neighbor is both great, coming in fearless to give his character an eccentric edge it needs. Will Forte shows up as a sincere, a very sincere, police officer, and his every second on screen keeps the comedy on a continuous stream.
And that's what The Watch does best, making you laugh for the bulk of its running time. When it tries to be too serious or takes a few minutes to play in the R-rated sandbox it's allowed to roam around, it feels messy, unable to land on any, one focus. Most of them are hurt by this, but the comedy stays. If nothing else, The Watch will always be a good film to throw on and make you laugh for a good 90 minutes. It's what the Frat Pack is best at, and though their glory days might be behind them, their days delivering decent comedies such as this are still going strong.
Jeremy's Rating: 7 out of 10