Movies: “The Watch”
August 2nd 2012 · 0 Comments
Comic actors Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn can both boast twenty-year careers in Hollywood, which is certainly nothing to scoff at. A look at each actor’s body of work reveals far more misses than hits, though this is true of all but the most selective performers (Daniel Day-Lewis, for example, who has appeared in less than twenty films over his forty-year career).
Stiller and Vaughn are both far removed from their funniest work (1996 for both of them, Stiller with David O. Russell’s “Flirting with Disaster” and Vaughn with his star-making turn alongside Jon Favreau in Doug Liman’s “Swingers”), but they consistently produce box-office hits. Stiller has shown much more range, of course, with standout deadpan roles in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) and, more recently, as the lead character in Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg” (2010).
Still, pairing such highly-profitable – if not equally talented – comic actors should be an easy recipe for success, right? Unfortunately, the alien invasion comedy “The Watch” is so thinly-scripted and devoid of laughs that it shamefully squanders the talents of its two leads.
Evan Trautwig (Stiller) is a CostCo manager (the film features scads of flagrant, unveiled advertising for the retailer, as well as for Budweiser beer) and heavily involved in his community of Glenview, Ohio. When his night security guard turns up dead near a mysterious puddle of green goo, Evan forms a neighborhood watch in the hopes of catching the killer.
The only misfits who show any interest in joining the watch are Bob (Vaughn), a local construction worker just looking for a boy’s night out, Franklin (Jonah Hill), a high-school dropout who wishes he was a police officer, and Jamarcus (British actor/director Richard Ayoade, best known for his role on office sitcom “The IT Crowd”), as a British guy.
Together they fail to turn up any clues to the disappearance until they hit an unseen creature with Evan’s SUV and find more of the weird green goo. This, in turn, leads to the discovery of an undercover group of alien invaders inexplicably infesting the basement of Evan’s workplace.
There are a few lightweight subplots (Bob’s teen daughter is unruly, Evan and his wife Abby can’t conceive a child), but they amount to little in the long run.
We’re typically left with scene after scene, each interminably overlong, as characters throw around a little profanity and not much else. The dialogue is shockingly devoid of jokes, thanks to a script (co-written by another popular comic actor and writer, Seth Rogen, whose talents seem untapped here) that seems to assume that Stiller and Vaughn’s mere presence on-screen together will automatically result in comedic fireworks.
Sadly, the funny never arrives. What passes for comedy is simply a few bald observations (for example, we’re expected to laugh at the mere existence of Magnum condoms––no attempt is made to craft an actual joke about the oversized prophylactics) with a little dirty-talk thrown in here and there. If you’re past ninth grade, then tepid descriptions of bodily functions are unlikely to elicit any guffaws here.
Other problems abound. The alien invasion plot falls flat, as it receives little development until the awkward ending. The aliens’ costumes and CGI are shoddy; it boggles the mind as to where the film’s $68-million dollar budget went, as you won’t see any of it represented on-screen. The merest fragments of potential lowbrow humor (the aliens are vulnerable only to gunshots to the groin, for example) are squandered. The actors’ collective lack of chemistry and the botched opportunities for jokes fall on Director Akiva Schaffer.
The film runs 102 minutes, but merely trimming a half-ounce of stage blood and some swearing (enough to re-rate the film PG-13, as its R rating is utterly underutilized) along with all the dead spots could easily drop it to 70 minutes without losing anything of substance. The shorter, the better.
If the idea of an alien invasion comedy appeals to you, try the similar but far-superior “Attack the Block” (2011), or the very funny “Slither” (2006). If you’re expecting another classic comedy from Ben Stiller or Vince Vaughn, don’t watch “The Watch” unless you’re keen on disappointment.
By Mark Ziobro