(by Dustin Putman
There are times during "The Watch" - solitary moments, but moments just the same - when the film feels as if it's edging reverently into blissful sci-fi/comedy territory previously occupied by 1984's one-two punch of "Ghostbusters" and "Gremlins." Clearly, director Akiva Schaffer (2007's "Hot Rod"), screenwriters Jared Stern (2011's "Mr. Popper's Penguins") and Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg (2011's "The Green Hornet"), and its whole inspired cast would love if this were so. Sadly, feature-length movies have to run longer than forty-five minutes, and that's where this one gets into trouble. Zippy and pretty consistently funny up until this point, the picture had fast made amends with its noticeable lack of development and narrative gaffes by serving up a punchy part-humorous, part-ominous tone that fit its premise like a glove. Around the halfway mark, however, all involved seem to run out of ideas. The humor stops, the scares end, even the pleasing pacing lurches to a crawl as the remainder of the film begins to wander about, spinning its wheels and going nowhere special. With the seams suddenly showing, "The Watch" finally gives away its own desperation. Article continues below
Costco manager Evan (Ben Stiller) loves his suburban community of Glenview, Ohio, so much that he doesn't feel the need to bother himself with the larger, cosmic, existential questions of the universe. That is, until his employee, overnight security guard Antonio (Joe Nunez), is found dead, his body ripped to pieces and his skin mysteriously missing. Believing that there's a killer on the loose, Evan decides to start a neighborhood watch group - a plan that catches on in the most minimal of ways, with only married father Bob (Vince Vaughn), jilted wannabe police officer Franklin (Jonah Hill), and recently divorced, definitely randy Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) showing up to join. Initially, Bob, Franklin and Jamarcus see these weekly get-togethers as an excuse to drink and have fun, but when Evan's adamant sleuthing leads them to the discovery that their culprit may be extraterrestrial in nature, they put the partying on the back-burner as they find themselves trying to save not only their town, but the entire planet.
There are niggling hints throughout "The Watch" that the film coming to theaters is not the one that was originally intended. If this suspicion is incorrect, then at the very least a lot of material must have found its way to the cutting room floor. How else to explain the early establishment that Bob is married with a teenage daughter, only for said wife to only appear once as, basically, an extra at the movie's tail-end, standing beside Bob in their driveway? It's not as if Bob's family life isn't shown, either; there is an entire subplot dealing with rebellious daughter Chelsea (Erin Moriarty) and her potentially sinister boyfriend Jason (Nicholas Braun), but no significant other is present during any of it. Meanwhile, lead characters are given the skimpiest of definition; what professions Bob and Franklin have are anyone's guess, while little is gauged about main protagonist Evan other than that he likes where he lives and wants to have a baby with wife Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt). There is also a five-minute scene where a plan is made for the delicately-featured Franklin to pose as a woman in order to get closer to a crotchety man (R. Lee Ermey) in the neighborhood whom they initially finger as a suspect. Once the discussion is over, it is forgotten about completely, with the movie going in a different direction and no payoff arising from any of it. As for the climactic battle set at Costco, it's a mess of destruction and chaos that forgets it's supposed to be a comedy.
Ben Stiller (2011's "Tower Heist"), Vince Vaughn (2011's "The Dilemma"), Jonah Hill (2012's "21 Jump Street"), and relative newcomer Richard Ayoade are something of a dream team, and a more confident, clear-visioned film would have taken better advantage of their comic skills. As is, their camaraderie still shines through, whether it be during a car sing-along to Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet," or a so-wrong-it's-right montage where the guys think they've killed an alien and decide to take a collection of compromising photos with the creature. R. Lee Ermey (2006's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning") is in and out far too quickly as the prickly Manfred, but does get at least one memorable line where he likens the neighborhood watch to "The Babysitter's Club." After she gets a look at how grievously mishandled her part as Evan's wife Abby is, Rosemarie DeWitt (2012's "Your Sister's Sister") will probably wish hers was a cameo. Judging solely on this picture, no one would be able to guess what searing work DeWitt is capable of, as in 2008's "Rachel Getting Married." Hopefully her paycheck was nice.
"The Watch" features an effectively conceived alien design, some safely R-rated amusement, and one or two creepy interludes. Why couldn't the rest of it live up to what it clearly proved to be capable of? Director Akiva Schaffer takes little advantage of the very idea of a neighborhood watch (the movie's much-better original title, for what's it's worth, before the studio opted to change it because of the controversial Trayvon Martin case in the news), while the whodunit aspect wavers between obvious and indifferent. The very second one particular character comes onscreen, it is plainly evident he's/she's an alien, just as the weird man across the street (Billy Crudup) who compliments Evan's skin is a blatant red herring. By the end, the viewer is most likely to not even care anymore, the energy of the early scenes having flagged to such a degree that all there is left to do is wait for the end credits and wonder what happened on this project's bumpy journey from page to screen. In final assessment, "The Watch" cannot possibly be what anyone involved had in mind when they signed on.