Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Watch - Theatrical Review

Release Date: July 27, 2012

And the award for the least anticipated film of the summer goes to....The Watch!

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria
Time: 12:10 am July 29, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 40 min
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Loves: Alien invasion movies, R rated comedies
Likes: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Will Forte
Neutral: Too much improv and very little script
Hates: Forgettable movies
Fact: The original title "Neighborhood Watch" was ditched due to the shooting of Trayvon Martin by a Neighborhood watch captain in Florida.

After a security guard at the local Costco is found massacred by an unknown assailant, Costco manager Evan (Ben Stiller), angered by the lack of enthusiasm by the police to find the murderer, forms a neighborhood watch to help protect his home and fellow neighbors. His recruits comprise of three other concerned citizens, the obnoxious but dedicated father Bob (Vince Vaughn), the mentally unbalanced Franklin (Jonah Hill) and the fresh from the UK Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). Together they begin to sweep the streets looking for criminals and any injustices they can dissuade. However, what they uncover is far worse when they discover a plot by an alien race to invade Earth and destroy every living thing on the planet.

"The Watch" is a strange beast, watching it makes one wonder what any one person on the set of this thing thought they were actually making here. There are hints of a funny film hidden within this thinly veiled buddy comedy meets alien invasion genre mash-up, but it never fully takes advantage of the considerable amount of talent both in front of and behind the camera and it never follows through on anything it sets up. This is without a doubt one of the most baffling films of the year and one of the biggest disasters of the summer.

The Watch finds some strange things on their patrol.

That being said though, "The Watch" is not exactly a horrible movie but it misses the mark just about every time it tries. However, there is something undeniably fun about the natural chemistry between its stars and its silly premise that makes it oddly entertaining even if you don't find yourself laughing as often as you would like. The biggest problem with the film is that it seemingly has no script, or if it does it is nothing more than an outline on how to get the characters from point A to point B sans any actual written dialog. Almost 80% of the dialog found in "The Watch" is from the actors improving their scenes with one another instead of actually trying to tell a story of any kind.

Improvisation can be a strong tool when in the right hands. Stiller, Vaughn and Hill are all fantastic comedic actors with proven talents in the skill of improv, but there has to be some kind of balance between what is scripted and what isn't or else you run the risk of the entire film feeling like one giant outtake reel usually found during the end credits or gag reel on the DVD. It isn't so much that the majority of the film is taken up with its four stars riffing on what each other says, its that most of what they say has little to nothing to do with the story at hand.

The guys get together to discuss their strategies.

Most scenes comprise of one character stating an objective, then another character throws out an idea which then gets riffed on by another character which then begins a series of back and forth comments the continue to build on this ever increasingly off topic conversation. Soon all the characters are trying to one up each other or trying to add to what the other character started and then about ten minutes later it is all forgotten and the movie is free to move forward to the next improv situation. Even the improv scenes that work are usually derailed by them just going on for far too long with the possible exception of the discussion involving dressing Jonah Hill up like a woman.

To counter that critique for a second, there are some actual scripted moments that do take place in the film but they also just so happen to be the least interesting and most nonsensical moments in the entire film. For some reason the writers decided to give Stiller's character this side story about him and his wife Abby (Rosemarie Dewitt) trying to have a baby. It doesn't add anything to Stiller's character, it doesn't add anything to the plot and it gets resolved in a way that will have you thinking the writers themselves just wanted it done and over with as quickly as possible. The admittedly few instances those scenes popped up actually made those woefully painful improv scenes seem like brilliant bits of comedic writing. At least Vaughn's side story ties into the actual plot in some fashion which made it much more relevant.

Taking it easy at the local Costco while formulating a plan to fight the aliens.

The cast would probably seem like the one saving grace for the film but unfortunately they only add to the problem. Stiller is saddled with the straight man role which leaves him very little wiggle room to stretch his comedic wings (although he does have one of the best lines in the film). Vince Vaughn is just an amalgamation of every other loud mouthed and completely annoying character he has ever played. Jonah Hill is somehow given even less to do than anyone else which makes his character's motivations seem scatter shot and inconsistent even if they do produce the most laughs. Newcomer Richard Ayoade gets some pretty good laughs but is given an arc that felt completely unsatisfying by the end. Some of the supporting actors get a few chuckles as well with

Even the actual story, as ridiculous as it is, isn't nearly as ridiculous as it could or should have been. When you got a R-rated movie about a group of disorganized and rambunctious guys played by these particular actors who stumble upon an alien invasion it should be a slam dunk for jokes but director Akiva Schaffer (of The Lonely Island fame), continuously finds new ways to steer clear of every set up the thin script concocts. Another more recent movie that dealt with alien invaders in suburbia called "Attack the Block" took this same scenario and just ran with it and made it work, so it isn't the premise that is flawed here, it is the execution.

This neighborhood watch means business!

The film often times felt like it was purposely dodging any angle that could lead to laughter. With such obvious set ups like this group of dysfunctional guys being put in charge of protecting their neighborhood, there should have been a little more interaction between them and the people they were supposedly protecting. Instead it opts to get right to the alien invasion plot immediately during their first night on the job. Any comic mishaps pertaining to the aliens are mishandled completely with a mid-movie plot device involving aliens hiding amongst humans being shoved to the side and sadly never taken to its full potential.

Perhaps if the film had taken more liberties with its R-rating, provided a more consistent narrative, had used the alien invasion formula to its full potential and had actually been funny then it would have turned out better. But when you got a list like that it begs the question of why even make it in the first place if it is missing that many essential components? As it stands now, "The Watch" is mildly enjoyable in a Saturday-afternoon-on-cable-TV sort of way where you don't really need to pay any attention and can wander away and return to it without ever missing a thing. As a film that you need to pay full admission to see in a Theater which in turn means you must make the effort to leave your home and go somewhere to specifically see it and give it your full attention, it is a dreadful bore most of the time with only a few amusing parts that give you glimmers of hope that just set you up for disappointment over and over again when it fails on the follow through. "The Watch" isn't unwatchable, but you would be better served watching something else.




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