With so much talent in front and behind the camera, it’s hard to imagine The Watch turning out as terribly mediocre as it has. Funny without being hilarious, with a science-fiction backdrop that fizzles out before the third act, it’s just not a cohesive film. The right pieces are in place, and there are moments that truly connect, but The Watch never amounts to anything more than an aimless exercise in increasingly-tired shtick.
Every time The Watch gets on track and tricks you into thinking it has more story to tell, Vince Vaughn hijacks the film. There’re a seemingly endless amount of scenes where director Akiva Schaffer is content to let Vaughn dominate the scenery. Every exchange becomes a riff that leads to a tangent that distracts from what could have been a really entertaining sci-fi comedy. And every time Vaughn’s Bob Finnerty commands the screen, we then have to be treated to roundabout exposition to get us back on point – making Watch one of the most ADD pictures to visit theatres in some time.
And it’s a shame, because there’s so much of The Watch that works that it makes it all the more noticeable whenever it falls off the rails. The film starts with a sharply funny murder in a Costco (the company really gets their money out of the film). Manager Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller) arrives at work to see his security guard’s been skinned. An OCD hyper-coordinator, Trautwig forms a Neighborhood Watch with Finnerty, the emotionally-disturbed Franklin (Jonah Hill), and the nervously sexual JaMarcus (Richard Ayoade of IT Crowd fame). Hoping to solve the murder, they soon discover that their tight-knit Ohio town is infested with aliens that threaten the lives of everyone in the community.
It’s ample setup for shitty payoff, and ultimately becomes an excuse for Vaughn to lazily riff off the cast around him. Which is strange, given that Stiller (who’s the narrator) feels like the bigger star here. It’s as if there was a tighter script that the team let slide in order to appease Vaughn’s reliance on improvisational comedy. There’s a thirty-second scene between Stiller and Vaughn drinking beers that goes on for five minutes too long. What I mean by that is that we gather the information we need right away, but instead of cutting and keeping the story moving, Vaughn and Stiller bounce some dick jokes off eachother. What would have been a funny deleted scene is, for some reason, still in the movie. To the point where I’d be shocked if there are any deleted scenes when the eventual Blu-ray is released, given how much of the actual film feels like an extended cut.
Stiller, Hill and (in particular) Ayoade fare better than Vaughn. Stiller’s tightwad of a character is familiar but funny and Hill again cements himself as a highly capable supporting player with his Franklin, a character with shades PTSD from a battlefield he’s never visited. Ayoade wasn’t an actor who was on my radar prior to The Watch, but the film’s funniest moments are saved for him. His look and manner are not dissimilar to Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Concords, MIB 3), but he’s the kind of friend whom you’d want having your back at an orgy.
The biggest sin the film commits is relegating Will Forte’s dick sheriff to the sidelines. Forte’s great in his brief time on screen, and I’d gladly trade some of Vaughn’s screentime for more Forte. An unfortunate byproduct, The Watch leaves its best workhorse in the stable.
Aside from a few bits of humor that connect, I would have liked to see more science-fiction. It feels like an afterthought, but it’s limited inclusion makes for some great moments. I make no secret around these parts of my appreciation for old-school creature design, and The Watch brings it. Men in suits, puppets, green slime (“It feels like cum.”) are supplied in abundance; with CG used sparingly and only when necessary. It’s a welcome distraction in a film strung out of unwelcome distractions.
Perhaps the script by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg was better than what we ultimately received. I have a hard time believing it could be any worse. But too much of The Watch relies on Vaughn. The sequences that feel written and thought-out are in constant conflict with a movie that has no desire staying on point. A rental at best, The Watch won’t command your attention this summer. It could barely command its own.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars