I'm not sure who was more desperate: the actors in The Watch flopping miserably while trying to improvise their way out of go-nowhere scenes, or me watching them fail and wanting to walk out on this humorless comedy. I'll settle for a draw since we were equally punished by a witless script and sloppy, undisciplined direction that offers as a high point Will Forte in a small but funny role as a pompous and slightly delirious police sergeant.
Considering the cast features comic-actor heavyweights Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill, being upstaged by MacGruber is not a good thing.
Directed by Akiva Schaffer. Screenplay by Seth Rogen, Jared Stern, and Evan Goldberg. A Fox release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated R for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language, and violent images.
Running time: 102 minutes.
Critic’s rating: One star
Evan.................................. Ben Stiller
Bob .............................. Vince Vaughn
Franklin ..............................Jonah Hill
The Watch -- formerly The Neighborhood Watch until 20th Century Fox honchos decided its title was too toxic given the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman and shortened it to the more vague title, The Watch -- is set in the scenic and fictional town of Glenview, Ohio. Atlanta and other scenic parts of Georgia double as the tidy and handsome Ohio suburb.
Stiller plays Evan Trautwig, an uptight Costco manager (talk about your free advertisement) who busies himself with community clubs he creates and who is avoiding marital relations with his desperate-to-have-a-child wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) because, unbeknownst to her, he is "shooting blanks."
Evan loves Glenview. He also loves Costco. And when his two loves are sullied with the brutal murder of a night security man at the business, Evan takes action and creates a neighborhood watch group to find the killer. He gets three recruits: Bob Finnerty (Vaughn), a man-child who creepily spies on his teenage daughter to ensure her innocence is protected from the boyfriend he despises; Franklin (Hill), a mentally unstable wannabe cop who didn't pass any of the law enforcement tests and still lives with his mother, and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), a happily divorced black man from Britain who Evan is proud to adopt into his group for diversity's sake.
But as the group begins its investigation into the murder, their neighborhood watches lead them to an even more horrifying notion: that aliens are among us and they plan to conquer Earth, starting with Glenview.
The Watch is a high-concept, low-laughs comedy in the mold of Ghostbusters -- minus the funny. The alien effects are fine, but rather meaningless. The main plot of this group of bored suburban dads and an unstable gun nut would have worked better without the sci-fi theme, and more as a film about overly concerned citizens who cause more trouble than they prevent. While that may have resonated too much given the Florida shooting, at least it would have been topical.
As a sci-fi comedy about humans battling an alien invasion, there's nothing here that the first Men in Black didn't address and in much funnier and inventive ways.
The Watch was originally written by Jared Stern and his script languished in development hell, before Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg got a hold of it and opted to start fresh. The comic-writing pair have a checkered past with one fairly funny coming-of-age film Superbad, a so-so stoner comedy Pineapple Express, and a disappointingly dull and uninspired superhero launch The Green Hornet.
Their R-rated script doesn't offer much more than a theme and profanity.
With a profound lack of funny in the script, that leaves the actors open to improvising their way through the film, which means a lot of penis jokes. And the more penis jokes, the better, because cracks about male genitalia never grow tiresome. Ask Kevin Smith.
Meanwhile, director Akiva Schaffer, feeling equally inspired, offers not one, not two, but several slow-motion entrance shots of the foursome to blaring hip-hop bravado. Schaffer also is sloppy with the story; a punk skateboarder gets his comeuppance at the claws of one of the aliens, yet his murder goes unnoticed in this small town and isn't even addressed until near the end of the film. Of course, anyone who is killed by the aliens has it coming to them, as the film suggests, because they're unfriendly or doing something they're not supposed to do. It's horror film justice.
But The Watch isn't a horror film. And it's certainly not a comedy. The former should make you tense with fright, the latter should make you shake with laughter. The Watch does neither. Instead it is an instantly forgettable summer bomb destined for a bargain DVD bin soon -- though not soon enough.
Contact Kirk Baird at email@example.com or 419-724-6734