Mark Reviews Movies

The Watch


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Akiva Schaffer

Cast: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt, Will Forte, Erin Moriarty, Nicholas Braun, R. Lee Ermey

MPAA Rating: R (for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 7/27/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 26, 2012

One can only assume a good portion of The Watch was improvised by its actors. Many of the jokes are long, rambling discussions of useless information and stupid plans. The occasional jump cuts to an actor at a different angle once the riffing is complete so that a character may state the next plot point suggests an open-ended, "insert joke here" screenplay in the movie's form, as well.

Characters say things that make no sense in the context of their broad, overly simplistic traits, like when the anally retentive leader of the group, who has already shown time and again that he wants to take the idea of a neighborhood watch seriously, entertains the idea that one of its members dress up like a woman to fool someone just so that the extended dialogue on the subject can continue.

Director Akiva Schaffer and screenwriters Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg have essentially assembled a string of sketches, loosely attached to the central premise that a quartet of men join together to protect their neighborhood from a threat they can scarcely imagine. Most of these scenes are composed of inane banter that offers little but the opportunity for four vaguely defined and differing characters to talk on and on and on about whatever random things comes into their collective heads.

Those characters don't amount to much, either. Evan (Ben Stiller) is an ambitious man whose goals are constricted by his surroundings—a small town in Ohio where he has organized various clubs (like running) and activities (like Spanish lessons for senior citizens) while working as a manager at a local big-box store (It will go unnamed, as it gets plenty of mentions—an overabundance, as anyone would say—in the movie). He's an optimist about his situation and content that nothing else in the universe could be better.

He has to adapt that belief a bit when a night guard at the store is brutally killed by an unknown individual. The incompetent local police sergeant (Will Forte) tell Evan it looks as if the guard had been ripped apart by a wild animal—his skin torn off—before suspecting that Evan might have been responsible (That's the cop's only joke).

To track down the killer, Evan starts a neighborhood watch (His shirt bears the slogan, "Say 'no' to murder," which is amusing). Only three people show up to join him on his quest for justice. Bob (Vince Vaughn) is an easily impressed man; he marvels at a 3-D television and a set of Russian nesting dolls with equal measure. In on the movie's several idiot subplots, he is having problems communicating with his teenage daughter (Erin Moriarty), and like every other one of those sidebars, the conflict resolves itself without much effort.

Franklin (Jonah Hill) is the most serious of the bunch about Evan's effort. He wanted to join the police years ago but failed every exam, including one for mental health. He's the kind of man who plays with a butterfly knife and can only confirm our suspicion that he hordes an arsenal of weapons somewhere. Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) comes from London, is new to the neighborhood, and has a childlike demeanor.

All of them save for Evan, see the watch as a chance to break up the slog of their regular lives, using the meetings and stakeouts as opportunities to drink beer and otherwise socialize. They have a juvenile mentality, so naturally there's much talk of bodily fluids. An extended scene in which Bob urinates into a can in the backseat of Evan's car is a prime example, and their examination of a green goo to determine what it feels, smells, and tastes like elicits another (Hint: Their answer is not mayonnaise). Evan has his own problem with fluids, leading to yet another easily resolvable conflict involving him not telling his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) that the reason she's not conceiving is that he's sterile.

That slime, by the way, is the main clue that something otherworldly is at work in this sleepy Midwestern town. Aliens have invaded, and they are killing people to use their skin as a disguise to blend in with the populace. The plot is as perfunctory as it sounds. Billy Crudup appears as Evan's creepy new neighbor, a man who likes the look of Evan's body and skin, and one should easily guess what kind of party the man is planning to hold at his house based on that information alone. R. Lee Ermey is wasted more in a briefer appearance as a shotgun-toting man on the outskirts of town who only exists in the movie to get the neighborhood watch up close and personal with one of the aliens. When they decide to take the first pictures of mankind with an alien life form, it's only a matter of time before they start posing it in crude ways.

The Watch is nearly formless, at least until it shapes itself into a generic climax with guns and green slime flying from alien bodies. No one can deny that the movie is consistently infantile, though: The aliens' weak spot is probably the second place these guys would think sober and the first place they would consider after a few beers.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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