‘The Watch’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated September 26th, 2014 at 4:22 am,

The Watch Jonah Hill Ben Stiller Richard Ayoade Vince Vaughn The Watch Review

Even before the first trailer for The Watch debuted, it was clear the sci-fi comedy – about a group of suburbanites that fend off an alien invasion – would need to overcome a few unexpected hurdles. Despite a rich cast of American comedy favorites including Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill, the film (from former SNL writer-turned-director, Akiva Schaffer) no doubt bears plenty of similarities to 2011′s surprise British indie hit from Joe Cornish, Attack the Block, which featured a group of rowdy South London gang kids who are forced to tussle with an alien threat to their community.

Then came the tragic shooting of 17-year old Trayvon Martin, which prompted an alteration to the film’s title (at the time, Neighborhood Watch) as well as numerous aspects of the film’s marketing. However, despite the pre-release obstacles, in principle The Watch has a lot going for it – a solid premise, an all-star comedy cast, as well as script-work contributions from funny man favorites Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

So does the final film make use of these elements – leaving similarities to other films and a problematic marketing campaign as an afterthought?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. While there are definitely some entertaining moments in The Watch, the film fails to bring anything new to the table or successfully riff on alien invasion tropes with smart satire. R-rated comedies always face a difficult balance – finding a through line between over-the-top humor as well as grounded narrative and characters that can appeal to audience members old enough for admission. Instead, the movie is a lazy mishmash of middle-of-the-road comedy bits coupled with a number of low road choices (such as the aliens’ weakness) that will have more discerning audience members rolling their eyes.

The Watch Richard Ayoade Ben Stiller Vince Vaughn Jonah Hill The Watch Review

Richard Ayoade, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill in ‘The Watch’

As mentioned, The Watch storyline parallels a number of alien invasion comedy/horror plots – but is unable to iterate fresh (or many funny) ideas. The core narrative follows Evan (Ben Stiller), who is the go-to guy for organizing community action in his neighborhood. After a grisly murder, Evan decides to form a neighborhood watch and fellow residents Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill), and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) answer the call to serve. The foursome begin patrolling the community (to the annoyance of the actual police department) in order to prevent further criminal activity – only to discover that their neighborhood is actually ground zero for an impending alien invasion.

The star power is mostly wasted on flat (not to mention familiar) characters that rely heavily on toilet humor without successfully satirizing mainstream extraterrestrial story tropes. Stiller is doing his usual “nice guy called to action” routine (aka Josh Kovaks in Tower Heist, Larry Daley in Night at the Museum), but despite a couple of fun establishing set pieces (introducing audiences to Evan’s job and other “neighborhood” groups he founded), there’s very little to the leading man outside of his scene-t0-scene reactions. The filmmakers attempt to ground Evan with an “emotional” story arc – centered around a secret he’s been keeping from his wife, Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) – but the plotline is entirely tacked-on and quickly dismissed by the end of the film. As a result, audiences aren’t likely to invest in the Evan character – since he’s over-powered by Stiller’s trademark comedy shtick.

Most of the side players fall short because of the same problem, a “style” over substance approach that never gets off the ground – especially since the sci-fi premise itself isn’t compelling enough to carry the movie without interesting characters. Vaughn’s “family guy,” Bob, is all over the place – mostly a cartoony foil to Evan who also manages a few of the movie’s more (comparatively) “heartfelt” moments – where as Hill’s Franklin is easily one of the Oscar-nominated actor’s least compelling contributions to date. Only Jamarcus, played by Ayoade (The IT Crowd), is genuinely likable. It’s a major credit to the actor’s performance – considering Jamarcus is primarily concerned with getting laid (an example of how little interest the filmmakers had in writing anything but flat comedy characters).

The Watch Ben Stiller Jonah Hill The Watch Review

Evan and Franklin defending their home turf against ‘criminals’ in ‘The Watch’

Of course, some moviegoers aren’t going to be concerned about the quality of the characters if the alien invasion element is interesting enough, but as noted, even the core premise is an overly-familiar and underwhelming mishmash of bland genre riffs. There isn’t a compelling, or even competent, extraterrestrial mythology or narrative arc to keep sci-fi lovers engaged – and much like the main cast, the alien characters are reduced to little more than one-note participants. Even the creature designs will look familiar – as if The Watch pre-production team pieced together an invading threat entirely out of Hollywood blockbuster leftovers.

As The Watch plot unfolds, there’s never really a moment where all of these assembled parts click into place. It’s as if everything and everyone on screen is competing to be the funniest aspect of the film – throwing jokes, one-liners, and gross-out gags at the wall without restraint in order to see what sticks. In the end, very few of the jabs really pay off and everything else is reduced to disconnected (and unfunny) noise. Nearly every element of the movie, the comedy, the science-fiction, and the characters have been done better in countless other films – including a few sci-fi/alien-invasion/comedy mashups.

It’s hard to recommend The Watch to anyone but moviegoers looking for a sparse comedy escape. The film supplies a few guilty chuckles once in a while, but an over-dependence on lowbrow set-pieces paired with thin characters and story will likely leave many audiences members underwhelmed or outright disappointed by the film’s lack of effort. The Watch is a lazy production at nearly every level – ill-equipped to conquer the summer box office. Expect these aliens (and comedians) to have better luck in a couple years – when they invade basic cable.

If you’re still on the fence about The Watch, check out the trailer below:

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For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out The Watch episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

The Watch is Rated R for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5
(Okay)

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TAGS: neighborhood watch, The Watch

23 Comments

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  1. Predator was defeated by me, these aliens stand no chance… Get to tha CHOPPPAAAA

  2. i love the cast so i will probably love this film, i usually like any film Ben stiller and Jonah are in and i enjoy the Vince Vaughn films too. I watched a couple I.T. crowd episodes too and i enjoyed Richard but i never stuck to the program so i would like to see how he is in this.

  3. I give it a solid 3. I figured the story wasn’t going to be anything great. As u mentioned the characters are just kind of blah. Stiller, Vaughn and Hill play pretty much the same characters in all their movies, this is no different. If your a fan of those type of films then I’m sure you’ll like The Watch. It definetly had a lot of funny moments in it. Has a Seth Rogan/Evan Goldberg humor to it that’s for sure. Lots of sex jokes and random potty humor. Im a fan of that stuff so I didn’t mind it at all. I wasn’t expecting the movie to great but I was pleasantly surprised by it, worth the watch for sure.

  4. You vindicated my worst suspicions of how this film materialized, Ben.
    On paper with this cast it had promise but that promise is unfulfilled.
    I cannot remember the last time I saw a comedy at the movies.

    It all comes down to writing and the comedy screenwriters
    who know comedy are few to nonexistent and it is almost
    always true that a script that relies on gross outs and
    toilet humor leads to a disappointing final result.

    • Low-brow, cheap, toilet humor, anything for a laugh comedies are just coming out too much these days. These films just aren’t funny anymore, unless you are entertained by any thing they’ll throw at you. Here in India, it’s the same with comedy movies in Bollywood. Really low-brow and tasteless, a far cry from the awesome comedy movies of yesteryears that didn’t insult your intelligence. :/

      • Interesting report from where you are, Abhijeet.
        America has been looking to India to remind us
        how we used to do thing right in some areas
        but I guess this this will not be one of them.

        • Haha, it sure won’t be. Comedy movies here from the past 3-4 years are made as if the audience is full of kids and people with low IQ who give the excuse for these movies as being ‘leave your brains at the door’ kind of movies. What they don’t understand is that having to use brains and having good funny comedy are two different things. No one ever had to use brains in the good comedy movies of yesteryear, they just had quality humour.
          The only movies we are getting better at are the gangster sort (or whatever that is called), drama and the movies that focus on issues etc. Comedy, action, romantic movies, there’s nothing in those. If anything, those are blatant ripoffs of Hollywood movies but low quality ones.
          Here’s one example from the most horrible comedy movie I’ve seen that had me cringing at many moments (skip to 0.30):

          • Now that was painful. I am not sure a scene
            like that would make it in a movie here.
            Very interesting example, Abhijeet.

        • Oh, and most comedy movies lately have taken to making jokes on handicapped people, homosexuals, black people or even midgets, which is just something Bollywood never did till about 5 years ago. I mean, how low can you really go for getting a laugh out of people? Comedy movies were one thing I once thought Bollywood was better at than Hollywood, but not the case anymore :|

          • Well that is certainly discouraging. The trend is not very funny.
            The industry has lost its sense of what to make fun of and writers
            in both Hollywood and Bollywood have literally lost the sense of humor.

  5. I love almost all Ben Stiller flicks… sad to hear this one is a dud :(
    Guess I’ll catch it on DVD when there’s nothing else going on.

  6. I will go see this, mainly because I want to see how well Richard A mixes it with Stiller, Vaughn and Hill. However your review does not fill me with hope that this will match up to Stiller’s best work in ‘Flirting with Disaster’ and ‘Tropic Thunder’, conversely Vaughn always seems to be suffering from a coke hangover (but that could be entirely imagined on my part), and Hill is probably playing himself…

  7. You know, I saw two different trailers for this, and they showed completely different movies. I saw the full-length one first, about the aliens and all, and thank goodness, because I saw another trailer last night that was probably only about 30 seconds, that tried to play up the sex angle. What kind of film are they trying to market here?
    And because of the single fact that Jonah Hill is in this, and Seth Rogen has his unfunny pothead hands all over this as one of the writers, I will not be seeing it.

    • I totally agree. Anything that Seth Rogen touches, I stay away from. Same with Jonah Hill.

  8. With the exception of Zoolander and Greenberg,I think Ben Stiller is pure trash.

    Jonah Hill was funny in Superbad,and that’s about it.

    Vince Vaughn’s act is beyond played out.

    I don’t even know who the other dude is.

    Yup,not interested.

    • Tropic Thunder?

  9. Robert Palmar your writing looks like a hiku

  10. I went to see 2 movies today; Step Up and this movie. My boys wanted to see Step Up, I’m sure because of the girls, and later I went to see The Watch by myself. I liked the dancing in Step Up but that was all; this movie was a lot worse. I didn’t find much of it funny at all and the big reveal was ludicrous. Step Up was a 2.5/5, The Watch was 1/5.

  11. Thoroughly enjoyed this film for the feel good vibe it had

  12. The Watch has a lot going for it – a solid premise, an all-star comedy cast, as well.

  13. honestly – this movie was pure trash. I wasnt expecting miracles, but I thought there’d be a few laughs. I knew it would be crass, but it’s way worse than that. It was boring,crude, highschool toilet humour with a plot line that seemed non existent. We walked out – as did some others. What a waste of money.

  14. I think that was a really funny movie and honestly don’t that it was trash it was a good movie!

  15. This movie is awesome. The aliens look amazing. The four actors play the same characters they always do. If you were expecting anything else, it’s your fault.

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