Reviewed by Mike Pereira
I’ve always had a thing for comedies about Average Joes going toe-to-toe with sci-fi/horror-type antagonists and like many, Ghostbusters was the film that made that profound dent on the psyche. One of the main appeals of this sub-genre stems from the relatability of a hero devoid of special abilities, not unlike the viewer. Also, the sense of danger is heightened under these more realistic circumstances. Since Ivan Reitman’s 1984 classic, there have been a slew of flicks following its template. There have been great ones (Fright Night, Attack The Block) and some lousy ones (Evolution, Lesbian Vampire Killers). The Watch (originally titled Neighborhood Watch) is the latest entry. Despite not winning me over with its trailer, the premise, R-rating and talent behind the film made me take the plunge.
After the death of one of his employees, Costco Manager Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller) puts together a Neighborhood Watch group with three fellow suburbanites (Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade) in order to find the killer. Inadvertently they soon discover an alien plot that threatens not only their town’s existence but the entire planet’s. The screenplay was written by Jared Stern and comic duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express and Superbad). After sitting through The Watch, I find it hard to believe they wrote anything beyond a treatment. This flimsy script comes across as nothing more than a general outline disguised by a whole lot of add-libbing. That could work well enough if only the cast felt motivated to put in the effort. Aside from the underutilized Will Forte as Sgt. Bressman, the ensemble is on autopilot. If you somehow find Stiller and Vaughn’s shtick still funny and unembarrassing, The Watch may do it for you. The leads are stuck playing the same old tired character they’ve been riffing for seemingly an eternity. Even the usually reliable Jonah Hill and his improv skills don’t add much spark to the directionless material. Rounding out the lot is Richard Ayoade, who looks mostly confused and embarrassed to be a part of this thing. I won’t even get into talented Billy Crudup’s head-scratching turn as the “creepy neighbor”. His character’s inclusion in the film is probably The Watch’s only out-there attribute.
As for the R-rating, you get the usual brand of lowbrow profanity which would be totally fine if the jokes weren’t so obvious. You get the odd chuckle here and there but for the most part, it’s painfully unfunny. As for the actual alien, the design contains a decent amount of menace. As per usual, CGI takes over in the climax but up to that point there’s a healthy dose of old school man-in-a-suit which is performed by Guillermo Del Toro’s go-to-guy, Doug Jones. While they’re far and few between, The Watch’s most pleasant characteristic is how surprisingly gory it can get. It usually comes in the form of good old-fashioned practical effects. Director Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) has put together a dull, visually flat picture. The camera work is as pedestrian as it gets. The action set-pieces are completely devoid of excitement.
The Watch represents everything I loathe in mainstream cinema; it’s lazy and uninspired. This is none more obvious than in an instance in which one of the characters is unconvincingly motivated to reveal the aliens’ grand masterplan right before the “big” climax. It’s as if the screenwriters forgot this important piece of exposition and in the zero hour the filmmakers clumsily squeeze it in. A boatload of cash was needlessly spent on a production without the courtesy of accomplishing the basic necessity of any film; keep its audience entertained. Considering the folks involved, that’s the very least I expected. The Watch is ninety plus minutes of wasted potential. Makes me wish the studio would have simply decided to bury this turd instead of just changing its title.