A lame rehash of sci-fi comedies that have come before it, The Watch is less than the sum of its parts.
After years of draught, sci-fi has undergone something of a revival in the last few years, having been lost in the wilderness of summer blockbusters. Yet the renewal has come just from aliens, but another kind of invasion: a British one. The Simon Pegg/Nick Frost team on Paul may not have led the box office charge, but it wore its influences on its sleeve, and reminded us of all the great moments in science-fiction over the last few decades. Even more of a forebear on The Watch was Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, in which a group of South London kids show aliens that they picked the wrong neighbourhood to mess with. Devoid of that originality, The Watch must rely on the comedic appeal of its leads, and this doesn’t always pay off.
In the small town of Glenview, Ohio, the community minded Evan Trautwig ( Ben Stiller) revels in his management position at the local Costco store, and his various club activities, although his relationship with his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) is less than ideal. Shocked by the violent death of his security guard friend, Evan announces the formation of a neighbourhood watch patrol. However, he only manages to gather three people to his cause: Bob (Vince Vaughn), a construction worker and doting father, borderline case Franklin (Jonah Hill), who dreams of being a cop, and recent divorcee Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). As the group begins to bond, they uncover an alien conspiracy that well and truly gets them out of their regular routine.
Perhaps we’ve come to expect too much from the Superbad/Pineapple Express/Knocked Up writing team of Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, here rewriting Jared Stern’s original screenplay. From the promise of Stern’s story came a chance for a Ghostbusters-style comedy for the 21st century, but the quest for the hard (US) R-rating and star power has severely diminished The Watch‘s capacity for sustained laughs. Instead, we bear witness to a seemingly endless barrage of dick jokes, occasionally punctuated by references to balls. Falling into the same trap as other recent comedies, including the contemporary Jay Roach’s The Campaign, the pursuit of increasingly tasteless gags actually hinders attempts at comedy.
Individually, each of the stars of The Watch are quite funny, and it shouldn’t be suggested that the film is completely devoid of some genuine laughs. Jonah Hill in particular is the most skilled at the kinds of improvisational moments the script calls for, and Richard Ayoade is a breath of fresh air in the midst of some overwhelming Americana. Yet as with any comedy with this many personalities, the stars are climbing over each other for the next ‘classic’ one-liner, with group discussions taking up far too much of the first two acts, delaying the inevitable action finale. When any level of drama or emotion is attempted to be sandwiched into the mix, the comedy grinds to a screeching halt, as if the fabric of space-time has been ripped apart and we’ve been dragged into a parallel movie.
The Watch is a collection of missed opportunities. Indeed, the always wonderful Rosemarie DeWitt is criminally underused until the final act, and even then she is only around to provide a relief from the sausage fest that preceded her reappearance. Despite some impressive effects and sporadic moments of comedy gold, Akiva Sachaffer’s second film (following the little seen Hot Rod) is less than the sum of its parts.
The Watch is released in Australia on 13 September 2012 from Fox.