Release Date: August 24, 2012
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Starring: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade
Starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade, it’s taken a while for The Watch to reach your local multiplex. Initially known as Neighbourhood Watch, it was intended as a star vehicle for Will Ferrell back in 2008. After he (wisely) pulled out, the film then spent a number of years in “development hell,” where it was re-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for a more adult audience. Earlier this year, its title and marketing campaign had to be changed after the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Despite boasting a distinguished cast, then, I found that The Watch’s mired production is somewhat evident upon viewing.
Bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to Joe Cornish’s superb Attack the Block, the film tells a similar tale of aliens invading an unsuspecting suburban neighbourhood. Shaken by the murder of a Costco security guard in a mysterious midnight attack, store manager Evan (Stiller) starts a neighbourhood watch programme to catch the culprit. However, finding people are less than enthusiastic about his plight, he manages to sign-up just three mismatched recruits: the laidback dad Bob (Vaughn), high school dropout Franklin (Hill), and recently divorced Marcus (Ayoade). Out on a patrol one evening, they soon discover that aliens have secretly landed and are planning to wipe out Earth. As you might expect, it’s then up to our heroes to destroy aliens’ secret base and thus save humanity.
“Uninspired” is perhaps the only way to describe The Watch. Certainly, as far as sci-fi comedies go, it’s a fairly derivative affair that adds nothing new to the canon. All of the standard plot points are hit and the aliens themselves seem to have been called straight in from central casting. Even the subplots, designed to add poignancy and make the characters more three dimensional, are boring and clichéd; Evan and his wife struggle to conceive while Bob is overly-protective of his maturing daughter. It seems inevitable that the film will be unfavourably measured against classics like Ghostbusters and Men in Black, which cleverly played with genre conventions and created more original monsters.
The humour is similarly insipid, with Rogan and Goldberg filling their script with the same foul-mouthed, penis-centric dialogue that can be found in their 2007 collaboration, Superbad. While this is worked well when delivered by angst-ridden teenagers, it seems forced and a little seedy coming from middle-aged men. Given the film’s puerile plot, I can’t help but think it would have been better if the crude language had been toned down in order to attain a less restrictive age certification.
Yet no matter how hackneyed The Watch may be, the cast manage to prevent it from becoming a completely disastrous outing. Indeed, Stiller does a commendable job as the uptight Evan and Vaughn goes to town with his role as the crude layabout Bob; both share good onscreen chemistry and appear to bounce off each other in a lively fashion. Of course, it’s arguably Hill and Ayoade who steal the show as the sociopathic Franklin and geeky Jamarcus. A more supporting characters, they aren’t encumbered by lazy subplots and easily have the best lines.
Overall, while The Watch is not the worst film of the year, it’s hardly the best either. For me, it’s just a below average comedy that had the potential to be so much more. If you enjoy a good penis joke, this is the one for you. Otherwise, I’d give it a miss.