- Rated R
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All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Ezra Stead
his isn't quite “Old School” meets “Aliens,” but that should give you a pretty good idea of what you're in for with “The Watch.” In fact, that sort of simple, high-concept description might very well have been the pitch for this latest film from “Superbad” writing team Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (along with new collaborator Jared Stern). It is an unapologetic farce from start to finish, the kind of movie where most of the characters are so patently ridiculous in their behavior that it is impossible to take them or their problems seriously, and thankfully, the film only rarely expects us to do so.
Directed by Akiva Schaffer of The Lonely Island (who make a very funny cameo in one of the film's best scenes), “The Watch” stars Ben Stiller as Evan, an uptight Ohio suburbanite who makes up for his lack of personality by organizing clubs and community activities. He's the kind of guy you sort of want to punch just for being so relentlessly optimistic about everything. The general manager of a local Costco supermarket, Evan is devastated when his friend, overnight security guard Antonio Guzman (Joe Nunez), is brutally murdered, apparently by some sort of wild animal that tore his skin off. Meanwhile, Sgt. Bressman (Will Forte) suspects Evan of the crime, for no particular reason other than the fact that Bressman is kind of a dick.
Evan decides that it’s his mission to catch Antonio’s murderer, and he goes about this mission in the way any good suburbanite would: by forming a neighborhood watch. Three of his neighbors agree to join him, each for their own reasons. Bob (Vince Vaughn, in his usual obnoxious motormouth mode) just wants to hang out with the guys and have a good time, while Franklin (Jonah Hill) has a strong vigilante streak in him after being rejected from the police force for failing “the written exam, the physical exam, the mental health exam … whatever that means.” Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), on the other hand, is new to the neighborhood and just wants to get involved in the community, though he also has fantasies of his neighborhood watch status leading to sexual adventures with lonely housewives.
Evan's own wife, Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt), is in danger of becoming one of those lonely housewives, as Evan neglects her in order to pursue suspicious neighbors like mean old Manfred (R. Lee Ermey, in his standard foul-mouthed hard-ass mode) and a creepy, mysterious new neighbor played by Billy Crudup, who keeps looking at Evan like he wants to eat him and complimenting his “amazing skin.” When Evan accidentally hits a monstrous alien with his van, he and the other neighborhood watch guys realize that the fate of the world is in their hands.
As a crude, vulgar comedy involving an alien invasion, “The Watch” sets the bar relatively low and largely achieves what it sets out to do. The alien effects are very good, creating a suitably scary monster for a film that never actually takes itself seriously enough to really scare the audience, and many of the jokes are good. The problem is that the film has a habit of running these jokes into the ground, albeit in a self-aware way that sometimes works well, as with the scene shown in the trailer in which Evan and Bob take turns repeatedly shooting an already dead alien, just in case. At other times, though, it quickly becomes tiresome; for example, the scene in which the four guys clown around with an alien's corpse and take lewd pictures with it.
Much of the humor comes from screaming, dick jokes and colorful profanity, and the film overall is pretty loud and dumb. Hill and Forte give the funniest performances, and Stiller and Vaughn deliver exactly what is expected of them at this point (I'm pretty sure Vaughan is just playing himself in most of his comedies), but Ayoade and DeWitt have very little to do until the third act. Delivering exactly what is expected is this film’s modus operandi, though, and it’s entertaining and intermittently very funny. It’s only when the audience is asked to care about the idiotic Evan and Bob as characters – particularly in subplots involving Abby or Bob’s teenage daughter (Erin Moriarty) – that “The Watch” falls short of its relatively modest ambitions.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Fox's Blu-ray release of "The Watch" has pretty much everything you'd expect to find in the special features department, including a short making-of featurette, deleted scenes, a gag reel, some alternate takes from Jonah Hill, and a DVD and digital copy of the film.