The writing team of actor Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg has yielded some of the most memorable comedies of recent years. In particular their ability to balance the genre elements and treat them as seriously as the dialogue heavy comedy is something to be applauded.
Pineapple Express and The Green Hornet worked (or didn’t for you maybe) precisely because amongst the stoner friendly comedy banter there was some great action and incredible violence which pleased all sides. When you consider that films like Evolution and the Men in Black sequels have never managed to quite pull this balance off in recent years then the idea of Rogen and Goldberg tackling a sci-fi comedy is an enticing prospect.
The marketing campaign for The Watch (confusingly retitled from Neighbourhood Watch) was the first clue that something was wrong. The alien elements were not highlighted at all in many of the trailers in favour of foul-mouthed, frustrated stay at home husband dialogue. Sad to say that much like the trailers, though there is a pretty credible alien invasion threat in play, it takes a back seat and seems like an afterthought for much of the movie.
Ben Stiller plays Evan, a man consumed by extracurricular activities outside of work. Evan lives happily with his wife as the manager of a Costco. He is shoved into action when the security guard of his store is murdered and skinned one night and decides to form a Neighbourhood Watch group. So Evan is joined by put upon dad Bob (Vince Vaughn) troubled loner wannabe cop Franklin (Jonah Hill) and strange British new member of the community Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). Evan and Bob clash because Bob sees the whole thing as a boys club and excuse to drink beers and get out of the house whereas Evan takes it very seriously having sworn to bring the murderer to justice. Things get taken up a notch when an alien presence makes itself felt in the neighbourhood and the group are the only thing standing between humanity and a full-scale invasion.
The problem with The Watch is that it’s not quite sure what it wanted to be. If it had just been a film like Old School about grown men shirking then responsibilities then there was enough material here for that to be this kind of film. Bob’s daughter hates him and he is an overbearing dad trying to bond and not lose his little girl whilst effectively stalking her online. Evan has unresolved issues about having children with his wife and Franklin has a barrage of issues relating to being a cop and his mother.
On the other hand this could have been a fun riff on Ghostbusters or Men in Black had they explored this avenue and made the pretty impressive alien effects work take front and centre. For example, around the mid-point the alien invasion is pretty obviously about to kick off and the group have some fun with an alien dead body and a powerful alien weapon. At this point in the script typically the threat would have been escalated leading to an effects heavy and thrilling finale, but what happens is the group falls out and suddenly Evan’s sperm count and Bob’s slutty daughter become the focus.
Not only is this confusing for the audience but it makes no sense in terms of normal human reactions to a threat or crisis. A little more fine tuning on either aspect would have gone a long way because many of the elements here work except that when smashed together, they just don’t. When the alien swarm does present itself, the big destruction and effects work seems unearned because nothing has been given any weight.
If you’re a fan of Vince Vaughn or Ben Stiller then here they do what they do best, Vaughn in particular seems born to play these motor mouth suburban dads and gets many of the films best lines. Stiller’s eyes seem to have glazed over a tad however and he could be entering that stage of his career that Bruce Willis and Nicolas Cage know all too well as he approaches fifty. Despite this and good support by Hill and Ayoade, who acquits himself well amongst the big names, The Watch isn’t as funny as it should have been, there is pretty much just one laugh out loud moment in the whole thing. Again though this could be because of the tricky tone, with the jokes occurring after scenes of men having their hearts ripped out by aliens or Vaughn getting a pretty savage beating.
The Watch is a mess of a film but it’s a fairly entertaining mess all the same.