'The Watch' Falls Asleep
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
The people who made "The Watch" can't be blamed for the fact that, around the time its distributor was starting to promote the movie, the term "neighborhood watch" acquired some distasteful connotations due to its proximity to a national controversy. Similarly, it is not the fault of the filmmakers (in a sense, at least) that some of the jokes in this movie involving prodigious rounds of ammunition being discharged by guns wielded by its heroes might fall a little flat, or feel a little weird, given the film is opening a mere week after a mass murder in a movie theater that itself involved prodigious rounds of ammunition. The fact of ultraviolent slapstick being considered innocuously humorous is worth thinking about, but, again, it's not this movie's fault that it might suddenly want to make some people think about it more urgently, or "urgently."
What absolutely is the filmmakers' fault is the staging of a scene of multiple explosions set off by its fun-loving, seemingly ill-matched community-monitoring heroes beings scored to, oh, you'll never believe it: N.W.A's "Straight Outta Compton." Get it? Because it's three white guys (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill) and, OK, one man of color (Richard Ayoade), but he doesn't really count as such, because he's British, and they're out in suburbia, and they're acting all "gangsta" with the blowing stuff up. Get it? Yeah, that is definitely the fault of director Akiva Schaffer, writers Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, music supervisor George Drakoulias, and at least one of the film's producers, I'd reckon.
Plus, the fact that the movie is so sloppily constructed that it goes from night to dawn and back to night again in the space of three scenes that are supposed to be occurring in a tight linear sequence? Yes, I'd definitely lay that at Schaffer's feet. Schaffer's been responsible for some very inspired bits of television and musical comedy in his career. (For instance, he directed the very popular "Saturday Night Live" Digital Short "Lazy Sunday.") On the evidence of this and his prior feature "Hot Rod," this reviewer would conclude that perhaps he needs a bit more seasoning before he tackles another feature. And yet he was permitted to tackle this, which looks as if it cost a pretty penny to produce. Hollywood's a strange place.
The movie's clichés and technical spottiness aside, "The Watch" is still not very good, overall. The premise features chipper suburban do-gooder Evan (Stiller) putting together the titular patrol after the unusually grisly murder of one of his colleagues at the local Costco. The only respondents to his impassioned football game halftime plea are man-cave-loving dad Bob (Vaughn,) poorly socialized wannabe cop Franklin (Hill) and eccentric fish-out-of-water Jamarcus (Ayoade). As the forces behind the killing of Stiller's pal are revealed to be literally otherworldly in origin, Evan is compelled to deal with the creepy attentions of an across-the-street neighbor (an uncredited Billy Crudup, having a little bit of a lark acting all smarmy) and a secret he's been keeping from his eager-to-conceive wife (Rosemarie DeWitt in a largely thankless role). Bob, in the meantime, is being overprotective of his teen daughter ... or is he?
The scenarios leading up to a way over-the-top shoot-'em-up-and-up-and-up climax provide near-countless occasions for raunchy humor, while the outer-space-invasion-in-small-town-America (that's not a spoiler, I swear) theme that gives the rationale for said climax seems to be straining for a satirical thrust, but never quite gets there. The only really successful bits of the movie are in spotty interactions between Stiller and Vaughn, who also established good comic rhythm when they played against each other in 2004's "Dodgeball." (The two also appeared together in "Starsky & Hutch" that year.) Hill and Ayoade get some laugh licks in too, and why shouldn't they; they're both pros. (Ayoade is the least well known in the States of these four, but fans of the groundbreaking British series "The Mighty Boosh" may recognize him as Saboo.) But in the end, the jokes aren't funny enough, and there aren't enough of them to make up for the sound and fury and incoherence and, yeah, for the preponderance of damn shooting.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.