Come the end of The Watch, you’re left in little doubt that there were eyes on a franchise, here. Not surprising, either. A comedy with a sci-fi edge? There’s certainly pedigree in that area. Thus, the film takes a little bit of inspiration from Ghostbusters, and throws in some Men In Black as it brings four comedy talents together to form a local crime-fighting quartet. As it turns out, crime is the least of their problems, and in theory, the ingredients here are for a fun genre comedy.
But it doesn’t work. You knew that was coming, but this is one of those examples of where the underwhelming box office reception in the US was bang on the money. What’s particularly surprising about The Watch, though, is how its comedy talent fails to gel. In other areas, the film scores one or two minor successes – the effects work, for instance, is clearly where a good chunk of budget was well spent – yet when it comes to generating laughs (its main reason for being, surely), The Watch woefully, woefully falls short.
The lead quartet, then, you can pretty much split down the middle here. Ben Stiller plays Evan, an officious, doing things properly kind of guy, who loves his life in the small town of Glendale. His wife is less keen, but still, Evan manages the local Costco, and seems perfectly happy in his work. Yet when tragedy befalls one of his employees – courtesy of a well-realised creature – he sets up the neighbourhood watch. In comes Vince Vaughn’s Bob, the all-drinking, all-playing one of the group, who only stops now and then to keep an eye on his daughter and her fledgling romance.
The problem with Stiller and Vaughn, though, is that there’s nothing fresh for them here, and you can really tell. Both have been through these motions many times before in Hollywood comedies, and neither generates a single chuckle for the duration of the movie. It’s a real contrast in that sense from their last on-screen pairing, Dodgeball. The Watch gets nowhere near that level.
Instead, what pitifully few laughs there are come from the other half of the quartet: the underused Jonah Hill (although he went through these motions far better in 21 Jump Street), and the excellent Richard Ayoade.
Ayoade is making his high-profile Hollywood acting debut here, and it’s no exaggeration to say that he makes good parts of the movie bearable. He pitches his performance well, is funny, likeable, and makes much out of not a lot. Casting directors who haven’t seen The IT Crowd before would be wise to take a look, and get the man’s number. He’s the highlight of the film.
There is another treat in the cast, incidentally, thanks to an all-too-brief cameo from R Lee Ermey. It’s still hard to find anyone who can cuss on screen with such conviction (outside of, perhaps, Sir Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast), and he’s not lost his touch. But the rest of The Watch turns out to be a bit of a chore, save for ripples of entertainment near the end. Most of the film is content to be a mix of product placement, prolonged jokes falling flat, and laboured scenes. There’s not much punch, not much pace, and painfully few interesting ideas.
It’s a pity, as the original concept at least offered more than we get on the screen. Sadly, director Akiva Schaffer can’t and doesn’t do much with a screenplay that you sense simply isn’t up to the job.
Fox gambled hard, with mixed results, on genre films with its summer slate, and following Prometheus and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, there were hopes that The Watch would prove to be the comedy treat of the season. Those hopes, unfortunately, haven’t been realised, and any hope of The Watch 2 will be long gone by the time the genuinely impressive end credits roll.
Many thanks to Cineworld Broad Street, Birmingham.
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