In a summer that has given more comedy misfires like “That’s My Boy” than breakout hits like “Ted,” “The Watch” arrives with little fanfare but plenty of vulgarity. Six months down the road, it is more likely to be remembered for its controversial name change than the film’s quality itself (The original title, “Neighborhood Watch,” was switched following the Trayvon Martin killing in February).
It is by no means a travesty and is likely a better choice than this weekend’s other major opener, “Step Up Revolution,” but with hackneyed humor and flat jokes, “The Watch” is better suited to a $2 Redbox rental than a night out at the cinemas.
The film follows Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller), a Costco manager in Glenview, Ohio, that is more focused on starting the community’s latest club for seniors than making friends or spending time with his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt). Following the death of his store’s security guard, Trautwig decides to start a neighborhood watch that, naturally, attracts all the misfits and perverted man-children that Glenview has to offer (Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade). As they uncover secrets of a potential alien invasion, the guys learn to grapple with every clichéd subplot that has been done far better in other films.
Newly dubbed as an Academy Award-nominee, Hill is the most-consistently funny lead who manages to overcome the mediocre material for the most part. He delivers the film’s funniest bits and steals the screen even when not front-and-center. After comic turns in the likes of “21 Jump Street” and “Get Him To The Greek,” though, his talents are clearly wasted here, as are those of Dewitt and Will Forte (Paul in “30 Rock”) as a dimwitted police officer.
Stiller and Vaughn are clearly present as an attempt to fish for the success they found in films like “Zoolander” or “Wedding Crashers,” but have not met in recent years. Although Stiller gets top-billing, he is no-question the least-interesting character, while Vaughn just delivers the same lovable-slob persona that he has fed audiences for years. They both show that they are long past their prime and are in a dire need of career-reinvention if they wish to be making relevant movies five years from now.
Recent films like “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Your Sister’s Sister” and the upcoming “Ruby Sparks” have shown that virtually anyone can be funny if they possess a basic set of comedic chops and are given smart material. The characters of “The Watch,” on the other hand, are simply focused on how many sexual innuendos or crude quips they can fit in every scene. When the neighborhood watch finds a small, alien machine that is covered in small holes, we already can guess the sexual pun five minutes before it is even said. The dialogue is offensive for the sake of being offensive, but has no developed characters or story lines to balance it all out.
Each of the aforementioned films had more laughs in 10 minutes than “The Watch” did in its 1 hour and 45 minutes of comparing alien goo to semen. While there is indeed a market for that brand of humor, the sooner that Hollywood producers take a chance on riskier comedies, the better movies we can hope to see.
“The Watch” has a few clever nods to detective flicks and crime pictures that film-buffs may enjoy. When Trautwig is standing in his house looking at his homemade web of criminals on a cork board, the scene is almost shot-for-shot identical to a sequence from David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (It may be a simple coincidence given “Dragon Tattoo” was released last year, but it was still very funny). There is also a raunchy photo shoot with a dead alien that seems to be lifted right from “The Hangover,” and is one of the few moments where everyone appears to be cutting loose.
With light competition this weekend aside from holdover “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Watch” should do decent business given its low buzz and already-middling reviews. Alas, unlike many low-budget, indie comedies that rake in cash for months on the coattails of strong word-of-mouth, “The Watch” is likely to fizzle quickly in this summer of uninspired, big-budget romps.
A suggestion? Check out last year’s “Attack the Block” instead. It has all the laughs and aliens that “The Watch” promises, but you will not have to pretend to be amused by Stiller and Vaughn’s usual shtick.