If you’ve experienced raunchy-talking, boys-club movies like Superbad or I Love You, Man then you’ve already spent time with The Watch. However, this one only has a couple funny moments threaded into the chaotic outpouring of improvisational sex cursing and an over reliance on clichéd bits and schtick.
Evan (Ben Stiller, Tower Heist) is a genuinely good guy who wants the best for his suburban neighborhood. When a brutal murder is perpetrated in the Costco he manages he forms a neighborhood watch to track down the murderer and the only guys who apply are a slick talking ex-frat boy (Vince Vaughn, Couples Retreat), a mentally unstable militant (Jonah Hill, Moneyball), and a socially awkward Brit (Richard Ayoade, The IT Crowd). As they look further into the murder they uncover a vast intergalactic alien conspiracy and they’re the only ones who are in a position to stop it.
I’m a big Vince Vaughn fan, and a big Jonah Hill fan, and a big Richard Ayoade fan, and Ben Stiller is fine, so The Watch looked like a good time as soon as I saw the poster. The film, however, is in trouble from the very beginning. The opening narration and montage set our main character up as a bit of a clueless schlub and it’s clear that the filmmakers think his puritan life of do-goodery is worthy of scorn. Yup. All good people just trying to live a productive life take cover, because Evan needs to learn to cuss and throw caution to the wind. Practically before the opening credits are over, nice-guy Evan congratulates one of his Hispanic security guard employees on all his hard work getting his American citizenship. As soon as Evan leaves for the night, the security guard is rolling through the store on a kids bike drinking beer to a rap soundtrack and smoking weed while watching soft-core thrillers on the big screens. That’s pretty much how the movie goes.
The entire first hour is simply vignette after vignette of the four main guys sitting around in different locations riffing crude, overly long conversations while everybody but Stiller gets drunk and avoids responsibility. It takes forever to go anywhere. When the alien plot finally happens there are some funny moments, but all character logic is repeatedly thrown out the window in favor of last second improv jokes and cool alien spectacle.
I think it all boils down to the fact that this was directed by the guy who does all the SNL digital shorts. He’s adept at getting a gag across for a couple of minutes, but he didn’t believe in his movie enough to rein it in and keep it on track. He let the cast go crazy and didn’t cut it down to size. Vaughn does what he does best, he vamps off the cuff in every scene, which can be outstanding (Swingers, Old School, Wedding Crashers) when there’s a director who knows how to properly cut it into the context of a film, but in The Watch there’s no one holding the fire hose and it’s out of control.
There are good things here as well: Ayoade is hilarious in every scene and is inadvertently the most relatable character. The creature design for the aliens is very cool and practical characters (costumes and puppets) gets more screen time than computer generated ones. And there are side stories involving Vaughn’s daughter and Stiller’s wife that are genuinely involving and human. But mostly it just feels like a fun concept that’s been weighed down by vulgarity and cynicism.