The Watch Review By Adam
New horror-comedy The Watch is possibly the worst reviewed comedy of the year. It currently holds a staggeringly low score of 16% on Rotten Tomatoes, and many critics are calling it ‘laughless’ and ‘a career low for everyone involved’ (obviously some people haven’t seen Little Fockers or The Dilemma). In reality, The Watch isn’t nearly as terrible as it is being made out to be, and it does contain some (admittedly) sporadic laughs. But considering its sizeable ingredients — four heavyweight comedians, aliens, a hard-R rating and a $70 million budget –it is hard to define The Watch as anything but a disappointment.
The Watch follows overzealous Costco employee Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller) as he lives out his version of the American dream. Evan believes that with hard work you can achieve anything -a notion that fuels his friendship with security guard (and newly minted citizen) Antonio Guzman (Joe Nunez). But when Antonio is brutally murdered (and skinned!), Evan is devastated and sets out to catch the culprit. In a move of retaliation, Evan establishes a seriously subpar neighbourhood watch. To Evan’s dismay, the watch’s juvenile members (Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade) would rather pound beers than the pavement. But the members of the watch are forced to lift their game when they find out that the culprit they are looking isn’t just a killer, but may not be of this world.
There is nothing wrong with the premise of The Watch; if anything, it is a clever idea that should have effortlessly generated laughs and wacky situations. But, unfortunately, a good idea does not make a good script -and there is a hell of a lot wrong with this script. Attributed to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad) this script has zero momentum and even less connective tissue. The scenes in The Watch are so dramatically independent that you could probably re-edit this film Momento-style and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference to the plot. This ramshackle approach is fine if you are shooting a comedy sketch show, but in narrative film it is crippling (and dead lazy). I imagine that Rogen has rarely heard the word ‘no’ in the last decade (seriously, how many chubby Jewish guys have their own superhero franchise?) and his work on this film shows a real lack of formal writing discipline – the ratio of character development vs dick jokes is staggeringly low – the only arcs these characters encounter are in their pants.
The lack of a propulsive plot wouldn’t be an issue if these guys had dynamic chemistry, but they don’t. In reality (and in Rogen and Goldberg’s script) there is not a single reason for these characters to hang out together: they have zero common interests (no one but Stiller’s Evan even wants to protect the community, for God’s sake). Granted, some of the cast’s comedic riffery is funny, but it is terribly hit and miss. It often feels like director Akiva Shaffer is being steamrolled by his talent – especially Vince Vaughn. Vaughn acts like an obnoxious dickhead in The Watch, and not in a good way. It would appear that Vaughn’s manic shtick is only as good the writing he is provided – what worked for him in Wedding Crashers does not work here; in fact, he almost ruins the film with his coke-fuelled bullshit. Ben Stiller’s performance is barely worth mentioning as he plays the same uptight, stick-in-the-mud that he has played in at least a dozen films before; he is not painful in The Watch, just completely ineffectual.
Brit Richard Ayoade generates quite a few laughs as the bizarrely polite Jamarcus. Ayoade sticks out like a sore thumb in this film, and not just because of his physical appearance: he has a dramatically different comedic style to his American counterparts and his casting is a gamble that pays off. I’ve been a vocal detractor of Jonah Hill before – I find him, like Vaughn, to be wildly inconsistent. But I must concede that he is the funniest thing in The Watch. Hill’s unhinged, deadpan Franklin gets the majority of the film’s funniest (and filthiest) lines e.g. ‘I bet that kid’s dick is so big, it dips in the bowl when he takes a shit’. Special mention should also be made of Billy Crudup. With his slick-back hair and twinkly eyes, he steals scenes as Evan’s cheery, sexually ambiguous neighbour.
Speaking of filth, The Watch’s R rating is problematically unbalanced. The film can hold its own in the raunch stakes, but its action is largely bloodless. Most effective horror-comedies use scares and gore to ramp up the tension and often, by association, the laughs, but director Shaffer never takes that route. Instead, the film often feels like a family comedy with drunken audio commentary.
I wish we were talking about this generation’s Ghostbusters, but in comparison, this film isn’t worthy of one of Slimer’s ectoplasmic shits. I must reiterate: this film is not a disaster, but it isn’t a wild night out either. To see an alien invasion horror-comedy that is ten times more effective (and cost ten times less) check out Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block. It rocks.