Watch, The (United States, 2012)July 26, 2012
Comedy-based "science fiction" needn't be universally appalling but, to work, it has to be handled with more skill and care than is evident here. The Watch is a studio turd marinated in eau de skunk that stinks worse than week-old fish. It might have been possible to pass off The Watch as a rip-off of Men in Black if two forgettable sequels hadn't claimed that distinction. Instead it feels like a rip-off of a rip-off of a rip-off, or something like that. Even at a slim 95 minutes, it's a study in tedium - of seeing how much recycled junk and tired punch lines a captive audience will endure. Someone mentioned to me that, after seeing the trailer, he had no desire to experience The Watch in its full glory. Truth be told, the trailer makes this look more watchable than it is.
Reading between the lines, one gets the feeling that 20th Century Fox had limited confidence in the movie's box-office potential. Releasing it one week after The Dark Knight Rises, on a second weekend when the Batman movie is expected to dominate at the turnstiles, is only marginally better than tossing the movie into the dumping ground of February. The Watch was supposedly intended to be a Will Ferrell vehicle, but Ferrell either passed or withdrew, which begs the question: How bad does a comedy have to be for Will Ferrell to turn it down? At any rate, Ben Stiller stepped in, filling a role for which he is obviously miscast. His co-stars are Vince Vaughn, who does his usual shtick, which involves gesticulating and talking loudly; Jonah Hill, who does a variation on his usual shtick; and Richard Ayoade, who relies on his offbeat looks and accent to get laughs.
I have often lamented the unfortunate Hollywood trend that results in R-rated movies being neutered to achieve the coveted PG-13 classification. The opposite appears to have happened here. The Watch has all the earmarks of a PG-13 comedy that, in an act of desperation, added some T&A and naughty words in a vain attempt to spark a worthy moment of humor. Call it The Hangover hangover, which decrees that nothing can be too gross... unless it results in an NC-17. This movie couldn't get a laugh if E.T. danced across the screen in a conga line. The sad thing is that there are countless opportunities for Stiller to take things into the edgy, darkly comedic territory he relishes, but the closest The Watch comes is a profanity-laden tirade delivered by R. Lee Ermy. This might have worked if it was, say, Kirk Cameron, but "profanity" and "Ermy" are wedded at the hip. What's funny about Ermy dropping a cavalcade of f-bombs?
The Watch's thin premise is that (Product Placement Alert!) Cosco manager Evan (Stiller) forms a neighborhood watch after his night security guard is brutally murdered and the local top cop (Will Forte) is too incompetent to investigate properly. Only three guys answer Evan's call to arms: Bob (Vaughn), who's looking for a Boys Night Out; Franklin (Hill), who seems borderline psychotic and still lives with his mother; and Demarcus (Ayoade), who fantasizes about having his nether regions licked by a hot Asian housewife who needs his help. The killer turns out to be an Alien rip-off. In a nod to The Thing, it can disguise itself as a person, so this means no one can be trusted. In the end, it's up to the intrepid members of the Watch to save not only the neighborhood but the entire world.
I guess we're supposed to be diverted by the science fiction and buddy movie aspects of the film, which are generic at best, while laughing hysterically at the ribald comedy. The problem is that the filmmakers forgot to make things funny, and there are few worse purgatories than sitting through a string of failed jokes. It would be embarrassing if everyone involved wasn't making so much money. The Watch's few clever lines and incisive gags stand out because they are so unexpected. This production seems to have come off the assembly line responsible for the recent string of Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy classics.
The movie underwent a title change from Neighborhood Watch to The Watch after the Treyvon Martin shooting. 20th Century Fox should have gone one step further and buried this in a hole so deep no one would ever be able to dig it up and subject movie-goers to it. The Watch should not be seen.
Watch, The (United States, 2012)
Cast: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt, Will Forte
Screenplay: Jared Stern and Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Cinematography: Barry Peterson
Music: Christophe Beck
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox