*** (out of 5)
July 27, 2012
Ben Stiller as EVAN
Vince Vaughn as BOB
Jonah Hill as FRANKLIN
Richard Ayoade as JAMARCUS
Rosemarie DeWitt as ABBY
Will Forte as SGT. BRESSMAN
Directed by: Akiva Schaffer
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
There was something both intriguing and off-putting about the trailers for the film “The Watch.” No, it has nothing to do with the Trayvon Martin shooting, though I know that news story threw the film’s marketing into a tizzy earlier this year. I understand that thinking by the public and the studio, but it was an overreaction. The characters and events in “The Watch” have about as much in common with that tragic case as “Gone with the Wind” does.
No, it was more about how the trailers played out, and that feeling is carried through the film itself. It’s not quite science fiction (though it clearly is), and it’s not quite a straightforward comedy (though it also clearly is). “The Watch” is hard to categorize, even though it would seem fairly obvious. And that’s the core of the film’s problem: It just doesn’t know what it’s trying to be. But it’s still funny.
The premise begins weak but turns into something a bit creative, even if it is a bit too similar to the solid British film from last year, “Attack the Block.” The story follows an Ohio suburbanite named Evan (Ben Stiller) who runs multiple clubs in his neighborhood. After a security guard is brutally murdered at Evan’s Costco, he starts an overzealous neighborhood watch with Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill) and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). However, when they start patrolling the neighborhood to solve the murder, they stumble onto an alien invasion.
Okay, so the premise is way out there, and the film doesn’t even get to much of the aliens until it’s a solid 30 minutes in. This is where the movie goes from being quite painful to being often funny and energetic. Not to sound like a rabid sci-fi fan (though I do really enjoy the genre), but things are quite boring when the aliens aren’t lurking about.
The normal human side of the film is awkward and clumsy. Even with the full knowledge of impending alien doom, there’s a rocky attempt to show family drama as Evan deals with telling his wife he’s sterile and Bob’s teenage daughter partying a little too much with her friends. In fact, the only personal storyline that plays well in this movie is Franklin, who is mentally unstable and a little bit too eager to start firing guns. (Okay, so maybe it’s not so far removed from the Trayvon Martin case.)
The real wit and charm of the story comes when the characters try to deal with the absurd realities of an impending alien invasion. Here’s where they’re truly fish out of water, and it’s their bumbling antics that made me laugh.
The other thing that worked in this film is the chemistry among the actors. We knew that Stiller and Vaughn had chemistry from their previous outing, “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” (and some great bit parts in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”). Jonah Hill fits in perfectly with the group, and actually steals a few scenes from the more experienced comedians.
However, it’s Richard Ayoade who really steals the show. Coming from the outside of the American comedian circles, Ayoade is best known for his work in British television with “The IT Crowd,” but his soft-spoken delivery and subtle background presence makes him more interesting than his more aggressive American counterparts.
Still, the story feels woefully half-baked, and where it could have been a brilliant comedy, it’s a relatively forgettable one. Take heart in the fact that you should laugh a bit during this experience, even if you forget about it later.