Ben Stiller in ‘The Watch’ Needs a Better Mechanism

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Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Star studded, special effects ladened “comedies” featuring aliens should have been put to rest after last year’s “Paul.” But “The Watch” is here, and it features Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and an odd Richard Ayoade as four suburban neighborhood watch volunteers who end up hunting space men. Yep, right after “Paul.”

What could have been a more pungent satire on suburbia, consumerism and lives of desperation becomes a Stiller/Vaughn/Hill romp, as they follow their movie personas yet again in a barely stitched together plot. There are moments that are farcical, and it does built a little steam by the end, but It suffers from having felt like it’s been seen before. Like last year’s “Tower Heist” – also anchored by Stiller – these star comedies tend to sputter and run out of gas.

Ben Stiller is Evan, a clean living suburban man who is addicted to signing people up to do stuff. He is also the manager of the local Costco, and is married to Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt). When a security guard at the store is killed in spectacular fashion, Evan recruits fellow neighbors to start a watch patrol, despite naysaying from the local policeman Bressman (Will Forte). Evan ends up with only three volunteers, trigger-happy Franklin (Jonah Hill), man cave advocate Bob (Vince Vaughn) and a freaky new townsperson, Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade).

Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade
Franklin (Jonah Hill), Evan (Ben Stiller), Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) and Bob (Vince Vaughn) in ‘The Watch’
Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon for Twentieth Century Fox

The four new watchmen initially clash, but learn to bond together when they discover a not-of-this-world weapons device, and evidence that there are lifeforms that have infiltrated the town and know how to use it. This opens up a whole new range of fears, including which aliens may be disguised as normal citizens. When the police are no help, who are you gonna call? It could be “The Watch-ers.”

There were actual moments when this comedy might have soared to a different height, especially when Stiller starts looking at everyone suspiciously while The Door’s song “People Are Strange” is playing on the soundtrack. Married to the Costco concept of over-abundant stuff, it might have been like George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” in which the enemy becomes us. But alas, that scene is followed by the four watchmen in the Costco, talking about the relative size of a male character’s private parts. In fact, there are many moments of what seems like retro-fitted “R”-rated language and actions, to lure the summer crowd.

The three leads – Stiller, Vaughn and Hill – are especially content to fall on their movie character swords. Stiller is still a befuddled potential hothead, Vaughn is the wise-cracking boy giant and Hill plays his angry “Cyrus” craziness to new and creepier levels. If they keep phoning it in like this, eventually the other end is not going to pick up. They do generate some laughs, but the screenplay (by Seth Rogen, Jared Stern and Evan Goldberg) recycles the same type of material – think “Superbad,” and “Pineapple Express” – that now has a familiarity to it, and makes it less funny.

The supporting cast is hardly visible, until they’re necessary. The “wife” character could be having an affair, which would have made her interesting, but instead is right by the husband that ignore hers in the end (and is available for the old gang-walks-in-when-greeting-husband-in-lingerie gag). Richard Ayoade is a cultish British stand-up who somehow wheedled his way into the Judd Apatow Comedy Club, but adds nothing but befuddlement in an one-note character. His actions at the end scream “rewritten.” Will Forte is making a living playing angry authoritarians, the clue is he wears a mustache for that type of role.

Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade
The Four on Patrol in ‘The Watch’
Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon for Twentieth Century Fox

As the first half weighs heavy and cumbersome, the second half does loosen up a bit, and this is where some of the better material resides. Despite the lead balloon familiarity of the characters, the film still manages a few darts at the conclusion. For example, towards the end the Costco concept is finally used for a few digs, before that it just seemed like a product placement. I’m sure Costco could care less about their image as a fat consumer wasteland, as long as the signs were visible in each scene.

This would be a good one to sneak into for that second half after the second viewing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” And if there was any product tie-in that would have helped – plus a good way to inflate the box office numbers – Costco could have sold admissions to “The Watch” in bulk.

“The Watch” opens everywhere on July 27th. Featuring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt, R. Lee Ermey and Will Forte. Screenplay by Seth Rogen, Jared Stern and Evan Goldberg. Directed by Akiva Schaffer. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

Anonymous JK's picture

No thanks

Looks absolutely atrocious.

Manny be down's picture

"The Watch"

Its’ wasn’t so bad its’ has it momenth

ziggy one of the best's picture

"The Watch"

Anything with Vince I like to me its’ was funny

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