2012, 102mins, 15
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Writer (s): Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Jared Stern
Cast includes: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Will Forte
UK Release Date: 29th August 2012
“The Watch” is borderline dreadful, which in itself is a massive disappointment. Helmed by Lonely Island member Akiva Schaffer (the same guy who directed 2007’s little seen gem “Hot Rod”), with a script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad” and “Pineapple Express) and featuring a cast of players that most comedies would die for, the film somehow manages to be a mind-numbing bore. For the opening two acts at least. Granted “The Watch” does find some rhythm in its flurry of dick jokes, sci-fi call-backs and suburban action come the finale, but by then it’s too late, the picture has failed as a piece of basic entertainment, its enjoyable closing portion only highlighting what might’ve been.
After one of the security team at his Costco is murdered, Evan (Ben Stiller) decides the community of Glenview needs protection beyond the local law enforcement, forming a Neighbourhood Watch as a result. His recruits are three in number, each weirder than the last. Firstly there’s Bob (Vince Vaughn) the father of a rebellious teen and a man who sees Evan’s Watch as a way to escape the house for an evening. Then we have Franklin (Jonah Hill), a sociopath rejected by the police, determined to live out his violent vigilante dream. The final addition is recently divorced Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) a concerned citizen looking to help – and maybe get laid if the opportunity arises. Together they attempt to uncover the murderer’s identity, discovering that their enemy may not be human, or even of this world.
With “Hot Rod” Schaffer didn’t have much scope to display his technical craft as a filmmaker, instead relying on inventive visual tics, sharp comic timing and a refreshingly absurd tone to sell the flick. “The Watch” is quite a reverse, a stale, abysmally paced comedy that admittedly boasts some decent special effects. The alien menace never feels overly threatening but they are aesthetically striking, a mean combination of both the Alien and Predator. Of course their demise boils down to a simple knob gag, but hey, that’s “The Watch” for you. Schaffer’s mishandling of the picture’s length is disastrous, stretching the joyless opening chapters out to suffocating length, killing laughter in cinema auditoriums worldwide. It’s weird to observe the picture spark alive in the last 20 minutes, becoming the amusingly pitched farce I was anticipating at the bush of a button. The fact the same filmmaker gives us the wired denouement and stagnant beginning feels almost unbelievable, such is the gulf in quality between the portions.
The cast aren’t great, which given their pedigree is inexcusable. Vaughn does his usual shtick with an admirable amount of vigour, but ultimately his punch lines are sucky, rendering this the latest in a long line of flops for the actor. Ben Stiller is given the most screen-time and a legitimate character arc (he’s infertile) but his performance is incredibly dull. It’s no secret that Stiller can be by turns magnificent and dire; unfortunately it’s the latter Ben who shows up here. Jonah Hill is the worst offender, not because he’s any crappier than Stiller, but because he has a lot of recent reasons to be better. The actor gives a mouldy psychopathic turn, rendering his recent Oscar nomination and the success of “21 Jump Street” distant memories. Perhaps after pumping effort into those expeditions, Hill felt he could coast for a quick hunk of cash here. It would certainly explain a lot. Newcomer Ayoade (who directed the fantastic “Submarine” last year) is watchable because he’s not yet been overexposed and Will Forte (the dopey Chief of Police) is dependably good value.
The screenplay by Rogen and Goldberg is relentlessly immature, but more criminally rarely funny. The degree of witlessness on show is astonishing, Schaffer having to rely on rushed improvisations to accrue any sort of positive response. There are some okay ideas in the mix, recurring jokes arise from XL condoms, alien goo and a lethal futuristic weapon, but unfortunately the scribes just can’t get them to pay-off. Rogen and Goldberg are funny guys, but their work here is shoddy, “The Watch” essentially representing the sort of failure one looks to have scrubbed from their CV. It doesn’t help that Schaffer’s timing is all over the place, but then again, the “Hot Rod” maestro is given precious little of worth to toy with.
At 102 minutes the film feels painfully overcooked, and even if the finish pumps up the standard it still generally fails to do anything new or memorable. “The Watch” is definitely one of the lesser tent pole outings summer 2012 has offered, a potently disagreeable product, especially given the individuals involved. Go watch something else.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012