MOVIE REVIEW: The Watch
THE WATCH-- 1 STAR
Maybe you don't see as many movies as I do, but do you ever get the feeling that a movie's one good idea, the "pitch" that got it made, is exhausted in the first half hour? I do, all the time. Furthermore, do you ever get the vibe that, after that one good idea is gone, the train has come off the rails and coherency goes out the window because ad lib and "let's see what sticks" takes over? Yeah, I get that vibe all of the time too.
I just felt that way about Ted a few weeks ago. Ted could have spent its 90 minutes just letting us watch Mark Wahlberg and his teddy bear friend Seth McFarlane bust each other balls over an afternoon bake session rather than trying to give the characters an arch of attempted and poorly drawn-up adventure. We still would have been entertained and spared a lame story. Just like The Other Guys two years ago, only to a lesser degree, I could have watched Mark and Will Ferrell trade cut-downs across their desks at headquarters for two hours and never had a preposterous police case to work out. In both of those movies, the real run was in the riff and repartee between the leads.
I have those very same feelings about The Watch, newly arrived in theaters this late July. Anytime you let three guys like Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill play off each other, funny things are going to come out of their mouths. It's perfectly acceptable to at least have a good idea or premise that puts these three guys together. Why not a neighborhood watch in suburban mid-America? Sure, we'll take that and the fun back-and-forth works for sure. However, once you they actually give something for them to do, the good idea of The Watch fails, especially if that idea is a cockamamie alien invasion.
Ben Stiller leads the bunch as community do-gooder and Costco manager Evan. He's an exceedingly friendly guy always looking to get involved in town, while he and his wife (Rosemary DeWitt) are efforting to get pregnant with their first child. After one of his buddies, the nightly security guard at Costco, gets gruesomely murdered with no police leads from the bossy and conceited Sgt. Bressman (MacGruber himself, Will Forte), he decides to recruit from the community to start a neighborhood watch. His only three takers are boisterous Bob (Vince Vaughn), police recruit reject Franklin (Jonah Hill), and local British dweeb Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade).
While Evan is razor-focused on seriously finding the killer, the other three are only here for a good time and the flowing beers of Bob's man-cave. When they stumble upon an deadly alien race that takes the skin of their victims to hide among the humans, everyone in town becomes a suspect, from a crazy former Marine (R. Lee Ermey), the snooping new neighbor (Billy Crudup), Bob's daughter's tool of boyfriend (Nicholas Braun), and the many passing customers at Costco. Is it one of them or all of them?
With a constant stream of bad humor, a ton of product placement, and the real-life Trayvon Martin incident unfortunately hanging over its head, the movie should have changed its title from Neighborhood Watch to Dick Jokes Brought To You By Costco instead of The Watch. This is what happens when there are too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen with one good idea. Officially, the movie is directed by Saturday Night Live writer and Lonely Island member Akiva Schaffer and written by the Superbad partners of Evan Goldberg and actor Seth Rogan with Jared Stern of Mr. Popper's Penguins (not a good sign), but you know the other two Lonely Island members, Jorma Taccone (director of MacGruber) and Andy Samberg (who all team for a dick joke cameo with Schaffer), had to have a hand in this train wreck too. When you add the constant ad-libbing of Vaughn, Hill, and Stiller to that, you've got a mess that looks like when your kids mix all of the colors of Play-Doh together and get it stuck in your living room carpet.
For as all-over-the-place as The Watch is, this had to be a hilarious bake session of all involved to witness in creating this movie. I bet every other sentence was followed with: "You know what we need right about now, guys? A dick joke." I bet they even brainstormed a checklist of all the possible dick-related jokes they've never used and pulled them from a hat while scribbling out this screenplay on napkins and receipts with crayon in someone's Hollywood condo. No penis-stone is left unturned. Don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of profanity, a good dick-related joke is funny, and I'll sure laugh, but 45 of them get a little old. Combining them with stock and predictable aliens just doesn't work.
Like I started out saying, just give us these guys being funny while playing off of each other. That's all we need and, honestly, that's all we want. The Watch isn't MacGruber-level bad, but it's still a long way from Dodgeball's creative color and Superbad 's originality and zest. The Watch could have been two hours of Bob's basement and Evan's van and we would have been set. If you're going to give guys as funny as these four stars a story, you need to be more creative than cheesy aliens. Now, go work on getting that Play-Doh out of the rug.
LESSON #1: GET INVOLVED IN YOUR COMMUNITY-- The basic framing premise of The Watch is still a good notion to take stock in away from the movie theater. The Trayvon Martin tragedy (which this movie had no role in or knowledge of) is an isolated incident and the bruised reputation of neighborhood watches is unfair. Community action groups, when run correctly, are helpful and unselfish things to take part in to support your fellow neighbors. See the next lesson.
LESSON #2: BE WARY OF CREEPY NEIGHBORS-- Communities wouldn't need a neighborhood watch, if there weren't so many weirdos around. Not everyone around is a good person with good intentions, so it's good that someone is watching out for their neighbor.
LESSON #3: COSTCO HAS EVERYTHING UNDER ONE ROOF NECESSARY FOR AN ALIEN INVASION-- When you need bulk supplies to take over a planet, look no further than Costco, but have your membership card ready.
LESSON #4: BROTHERHOOD AND SOLIDARITY AMONG MEN-- While you ladies have book clubs and selling parties of everything from scented melters, candles, tote bags, cooking supplies, and jewelry, guys need their camaraderie and bonding events too. Guys, for the most part are team-oriented beings, that need to belong to something to attain and soak up solidarity and brotherhood.
LESSON #5: IT'S GOOD TO BE INVOLVED, BUT DON'T FORGET ABOUT HOME-- This may slightly negate Lesson #1, but call this lesson an extra clause to make that lesson work. There's nothing wrong with having a girl-group, a guy-group, or an extracurricular activity, but don't spread yourself so thin with supposed outside responsibility to forget the important things at home. Most of our overzealous four guys from The Watch let the club take a little too much time and attention from real problems at home. Don't make the same mistake, you over-involved readers.