Director: Akiva Schaffer
Runtime: 100 minutes
I suppose you can describe The Watch (formerly Neighborhood Watch) as high concept, and perhaps high might be the state one would be in to enjoy it. Here we have one of the most uninspired comedies of the year, a film with little-to-no redeeming qualities and even fewer laughs. Directed by Akiva Schaffer (with a background in directing shorts for Saturday Night Live, and previously the spirited Hot Rod) and written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, it’s baffling how all of these smart people can make something that quite frankly lacks necessary laughs and originality.
Comedy depends on what you find funny naturally and seeing the film sober with a small audience didn’t help the situation. The history of alien and science fiction is coded with metaphor, and the film makes no sense of what it is trying to say. Is it a comment on consumerism (after all the film’s main character is the manager of a Costco) or the suburbs? If so, it doesn’t go the distance.
Ben Stiller plays the aforementioned Evan, a Costco manager living in a tiny Ohio town. After a store security guard is brutally murdered and skinned alive during the night shift, he forms a neighborhood watch with Franklin (Jonah Hill), a police academy reject, Bob (Vince Vaughn) and a British man whom they don’t question nearly as much as they should, named Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade).
After the initial bonding, a stake-out leads them to one of the film’s brightest moments: R. Lee Ermey arrives, typecast to tell the boys what he thinks of ’em, Full Metal Jacket-style. Unfortunately, it’s all down hill from there as the guys discover a nuclear-like device that they can use to defeat the alien invasion on the horizon, accidentally blowing up a cow in the process. Another all too short (with a far too small comic payoff) cameo belongs to Billy Crudup. Again — what are these smart people doing in this trainwreck?
The biggest problem is that we know exactly what we are getting. Stiller is a compulsive middle manager trapped in the suburbs; Vaughn, a working man who wants to kick back and drink a beer with the boys and Hill as a momma’s boy stuck in arrested development. Ayoade is an unexpected addition to this pool of type casting, and yet very little is done with this beyond an obvious plot point.
It’s not impossible to make a good sci-fi comedy — think Paul from last year, or even the often hilarious Attack the Block. This one lacks ambition beyond its utter desire to be a mainstream “product” — yes, this is a product more than a film. Straying far from the anti-mainstream geekdom that many successful sci-fi comedies embrace, in the end The Watch will satisfy no one.
The Watch is now in wide release.
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