As far as guy comedies go, you could do a whole lot worse than “The Watch.” I know that doesn’t sound like strong praise and it is true that Akiva Schaffer’s new movie isn’t anything great. It doesn’t break any new ground with the guy comedy genre. But it’s not a train wreck either. And except for a little bit of shakiness in the third act the whole film surprisingly holds together fairly well. And it’s funny. Schaffer and crew have brought together a group of experienced comic actors who, at the very least, know how to bring about some laughs.
Ben Stiller stars as Evan, a straight-edged suburbanite and the manager of the local Costco. When he’s not looking after the store, he’s doing some other activity in his community, like fun runs or charities. He has a wife at home, who wants kids but he’s shooting blanks, so he’s too ashamed to tell her. After one of his employees gets killed inside Costco at night by some mysterious forces, he feels the obligation to start a neighborhood watch.
As to be expected, most of the people in the neighborhood aren’t interested and in the end he only gets three other recruits: Bob (Vince Vaughn), an extreme, beer drinking, sports watching guy, who mainly joined so he could spy on his teenage daughter. Franklin (Jonah Hill), a younger man with emotional problems and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), a nerdy fellow whose motivations for joining the watch are sketchy at first. After doing some investigating and finding some strange green goo, the four of them find out that aliens have infiltrated their neighborhood and that there is going to be an invasion.
First off, let me say that I think Schaffer and screenwriters Seth Rogen, Jared Stern and Evan Goldberg could have come up with a better enemy for The Watch to take on. These days—unless it’s a really fresh concept—aliens have turned into fail safe antagonists. You don’t have to go into much background as to where they came from (Oh, they came from the sky? OK) and for the purposes of this movie they provide a number of gross-out gags. It’s not to say that the movie is completely laugh free because of them, I’m just saying that Schaffer and the writers could have come up with a much more intelligent story involving humans. But whatever, that ship has sailed.
As for the movie at hand. The script goes through the motions that you would expect. First the four of them don’t get along; Evan is strict and wants to control every aspect of the watch, while the other three members don’t take it seriously initially. Then one night, they are able to prevent one little crime from taking place and while they are celebrating, another person is violently killed. They run into a foul mouthed old man, and find a high tech alien weapon, which they decide to cause a ruckus with. And of course there’s the third act breakup where the group splits up temporarily, only to reunite and become closer friends.
This is only half criticism. For how routine the plot structure feels at least it stays on track. It doesn’t dawdle around; it sticks with the idea of the neighborhood watch all the way through. And as long as the movie is funny, I have no problem, which it is for the most part. I wouldn’t say that the humor is consistent; there are verbal exchanges that go on a little too long. Since Rogen and Goldberg are writers (they wrote “Superbad”), they’re trying to imitate the Judd Apatow style of verbal comedy. There are also a few man jokes that just feel too shallow and easy. But at the same time, there’s still a great amount of random, spontaneous humor scattered throughout.
The acting is definitely mixed. Ben Stiller fits comfortably into the role of Evan, although that’s not a compliment. Recently, whether it’s this movie or last year’s “Tower Heist,” or 2010’s “Little Fockers,” Stiller has a tendency to play the same goodie square-o character. He’s good at it no doubt, but he’s also bland and probably gathered the least laughs. Now that he’s 46 he needs to play against type again, like he did in “Dodgeball” and “Zoolander.”
Vaughn on the other hand is a little too hyper. I know that’s what he’s going for but often times it comes off like he’s trying too hard to be funny. If he had just dialed it down a few notches he would have been fine. Hill and Ayoade are by far the standouts: Hill doing a more intense version of his usual act, with complete ease as always and Ayoade’s tone and mannerisms are pitch perfect. His natural British tongue making his lines even funnier.
So far this year, there has only been one worthwhile raunchy guy comedy, “21 Jump Street,” also with Jonah Hill. “The Watch” isn’t as consistently funny or self aware as “21 Jump Street” but it’s still a marginally fun watch. It will keep its target audience satisfied and there have been worse comedies.