On occasion, Ben Stiller decides to join forces with a few other comedians and make a buddy comedy. While this was fun during his Dodgeball days, lately the best we've seen from this particular branch of Stiller comedy has been Tower Heist (not saying too much there). The Watch is essentially like any other of Stiller's subpar group ventures, only now a few aliens are thrown into the mix. It's kind of a mess, but if you love Costco, you'll be pretty okay with it all.
The Watch centers around Evan, a loyal suburbanite whose greatest pride is his status as senior manager at the local Costco. When Costco's security guard is found dead after his night shift, Evan takes it upon himself to form a neighborhood watch in order to find the murderer and return Glenview to the safe, harmonious little community he loves. Along the way he picks up Bob (Vince Vaughn), a dad who is attempting to properly parent his teenage daughter, Franklin (Jonah Hill), a high school drop out with a vigilante complex and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), a man who acts exactly like Richard Ayoade.
Naturally, shenanigans ensue, all of which are rather trivial -- until, as the trailer suggests, the gang figures out that the security guard was actually murdered by an alien and not someone who hangs out in warehouse stores waiting to murder the night staff. While the whole introduction of the alien thing would, in a logical film, alter the course of the story, somehow the film manages to push the whole alien invasion thing into a small, controlled subplot. Because naturally, the film everyone really came to see was one where Vaughn insults his daughter's boyfriend for Magnum Trojan condoms (a marketing scheme that, while still eye-rollingly obvious, pales in comparison to the film's Costco worship) and where Ayoade talks about sexual encounters with sexy Asian housewives, or something equally as unnecessary. When the aliens do show up, it's in two totally unbalanced doses -- we either see only glimpses of the creatures, or we see dozens of CGI aliens all at once, almost to the effect of a video game sequence -- and by that point the audience has been filled with so much filler that the filler has essentially become the movie.
That's not to say that The Watch has nothing going for it -- it's just that all of its potential is immediately squashed by lazy writing, and probably a studio agenda. The film begins with a quick overview of Glenview, Evan's own personal suburban paradise, where, Evan stresses, "Diversity is important." Evan goes into his "friendships" with a variety of ethnic groups, like the Korean widow who sprays him with a garden hose during his daily jogs with the Glenview Running Club (Evan's the President, of course) and even talks about his desire to finally become friends with a black person. It's all a perfect exaggerated portrait of the white-washed suburbs, which would have made it so easy to bring in the "search for aliens among us" thread. With the focus on Evan's supposed love of diversity, it really seemed like that was where the plot was going, but the entire joke is completely dropped. Instead, Evan is painted as a control freak whose obsessive love of his neighborhood has way more to do with his personal issues at home.
While no one was particularly atrocious or unlikeable in the film, the film focused so much on developing individuals that it seemed to forget about the whole overarching "alien thing" entirely. The Watch spends a ridiculous amount of time analyzing Evan's character flaws, when really it should be using those minutes to crack out a joke or two. As pleasantly surprised as I was to see Vaughn playing a character who didn't exhibit his traditional sarcastic humor, the amount of time the film devoted to the subplot surrounding Bob's daughter and her far-too-typical-to-be-entertaining teenage antics was totally out of proportion to its significance -- when the subplot finally did tie into the main storyline, it was hard to remember why we were even supposed to care. While Ayoade's Jamarcus was the only character that seemed to recognize what movie he was supposed to be in, he also got the least amount of screen time, as the film was busy filling up the Ayoade-less minutes with heart-to-heart's between Bob and Evan. Top the rest of the time off with Rosemarie Dewitt as Evan's long-suffering wife and you've got yourself one hell of an overstuffed movie.
When those pesky aliens finally do get their own screen time, the fairly tame film pulls out all the stops --buckets of blood are spewed (both the regular kind and the alien's Nickelodeon-esque green type), people are attacked, and various body parts are flung about. Even if you're into that sort of thing, it feels grossly inconsistent to the rest of the movie. The film never quite decides what kind of a movie you'll be watching -- the crude buddy comedy or the family friendly (ish) invasion parody -- and in the end, it doesn't work as either.
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