It is altogether astonishing that a movie as full of dick jokes as The Watch could be as utterly flaccid as it is. I suppose that in itself is an accomplishment, though I wouldn’t call it a desirable one. Now, it’s true that R rated comedies fare poorly on Friday mornings (when I saw the movie), but this crowd was thin even by that standard. Moreover, I heard one laugh during the entire running time and witnessed three walkouts. That’s not a good sign. It is, however, entirely in keeping with this dismal, tedious mess being palmed off as a movie.
The film has — if nothing else — a rather strange history. It apparently started life as a more family-friendly affair by Jared Stern (the guy who gave us Mr. Popper’s Penguins). It then was raunched up by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Once shooting commenced, it became an improvisational field day for its stars — or so it’s been reported. Rogen and Goldberg have not commented on this (so far as I know), but they’re probably just happy to be able to blame others for the resulting film. Beyond that, there’s the whole business of changing the title from Neighborhood Watch to The Watch in an attempt to distance the film from any memories of the Trayvon Martin shooting. Considering the amount of publicity given to the name change, one wonders why they bothered — unless, of course, it was all that free publicity. But surely you don’t think the studio could be that crass — or do you?
Whatever the case, what we ended up with is a tedious affair about Evan (Ben Stiller), a Costco manager, putting together a neighborhood watch in order to discover who killed (and skinned) his night watchman. OK, so that’s a lot less like a neighborhood watch than it is a lesser Bowery Boys scenario — only here staffed by the hormonal Hardy Boys from hell. All Evan gets is Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill) and Jamarcus (Brit TV comic Richard Ayoade). Bob is looking for an overgrown boys club. Franklin wants to try being the cop he planned on becoming before he failed his test and was deemed mentally unbalanced. Jamarcus wants to fulfill a sexual fantasy involving a lonely Asian woman. After a good deal of pointless meandering and unfunny “man talk,” the film finally gets around to its central neighborhood watch versus space aliens premise. This at least gives the proceedings a trajectory, but it doesn’t make it any funnier.
R. Lee Ermey shows up to do his ex-military swearing schtick before being disemboweled. There’s a subplot involving Evan’s inability to tell his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) that he’s sterile. There’s another subplot about Bob’s theoretically loose daughter (TV actress Erin Moriarty). And there’s yet another subplot about Evan’s creepy neighbor (a wisely unbilled Billy Crudup), who might be an alien or might be hitting on Evan. Somehow this all ends up with a lot of explosions, CGI aliens and tedium. Nearly all the performances smack of desperation. The only real exception is Richard Ayoade (whom I know solely as writer-director of last year’s excellent Submarine) — and that’s because he comes across more like a bemused observor than an active participant. (However, his explanation of why the aliens are going to destroy Earth gave me my only laugh in the film.) Look, if you want a funny, clever, surprising movie about regular people taking on an alien invasion, rent Joe Conish’s Attack the Block (2011) and forget this lox. Rated R for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images.