Not a single action that takes place in The Watch conforms to any known standards of human behavior. There are no characters here, at least none that we might recognize as actual people. They exist as Comedic Delivery Devices, adhering to a hot mess of a plot in the delusional belief that they can milk some laughs out of it. It’s a movie of contrivances rather than stories, of clichés rather than heart. The only question is how such talented comic actors agreed to participate in it.
It’s hard to know where to begin with a film this godawful sloppy. To the best of my knowledge, it considers itself a suburban satire about a quartet of well-meaning bumblers who set up a neighborhood watch in their posh, milquetoast Ohio town. Considering that said bumblers include Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill, the prospect carries its share of possibilities… even if the actors rigidly adhere to their chosen personas. Vaughn plays the easygoing party dude: loud, brash and too full of self-confidence. Stiller plays a well-meaning control freak whose obsession with order runs afoul of life’s little messes. Hill gets the best of it, playing a twitchy gun freak with something to prove to the local cops. They’re joined by newcomer Richard Ayoade, playing a transplanted Brit whose calm façade hides some freaky little kinks.
They aim low, but one could presumably do worse than watching them crash around suburbia, getting into various forms of zany mayhem while trying to keep folks safe and learning a few trite lessons in the process. I suspect that The Watch began with that as a base, then slid steadily downhill with each new draft. Screenwriters Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg pile on as many dreadful plot contrivances as they can get their hands on. Vaughn’s teenage daughter (Erin Moriarty) sneaks out to party against his wishes, Stiller and his wife (Rosemary DeWitt) struggle to conceive a child, and space aliens plot an invasion of the Earth centered around the CostCo where Stiller’s character works as a manager.
Yes, one of those things is not like the other. And with a little development, it could have given the otherwise bland comedy the boost it needed to become worthwhile. But director Akiva Schaffer just mashes it in on top of the other half-baked subplots, then calls it the backbone of the film and leaves it there to fester. Schaffer worked extensively on Saturday Night Live before this project, which explains the film’s lazy sketch-comedy feel. He never connects the dots, either in terms of the jumbled plot threads or the characters’ motivations from one scene to the next.
It results in bizarre non sequiturs that make no logical sense. When the boys apparently kill an alien, their first response is to drag the body home and take funny pictures with it… despite the disemboweled human corpse lying next to it. Vaughn abandons a stakeout involving a couple in apparent danger because his daughter may be out with the local teenage creep, and the actual police (led by an aggressively off-putting Will Forte) drift in and out whenever the script needs a bully to sneer at the heroes.
The Watch presumably excuses such slipshod idiocy by claiming it’s all in the name of laughs. But laughs, I’m afraid, come few and far between here: crushed beneath laborious set-ups, uninspired pay-offs and the arrogant assumption that no one in the audience will care. A precious handful of chuckles arrive mostly through improvisation: Hill gets in a few digs at opportune moments, and Ayoade wins us over simply because we haven’t seen his particular shtick before. Props also go to Billy Crudup, playing Stiller’s neighbor, who scores a win solely on his intentionally creepy smarm.
The rest of The Watch is an absolute waste: the worst kind of studio piffle dredged up at the bitter end of summer in hopes of wringing a few extra dollars out of exhausted moviegoers. A bad comedy is one thing, but a bad comedy starring funny people is unconscionable. With the dog days of August arriving, filmgoers need to lower their sights a bit. The Watch gets the jump on us, then reminds us just how low the next few weeks can sink.