Evan (Ben Stiller) is a boring guy with a boring life. He lives in a small, picturesque town in Ohio with his lovely wife Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt), is the manager of a bustling Costco, and seems to have made peace with his innate boring nature. He stays active in the community, has founded multiple clubs, and all in all is a great guy.
Then, a friend and co-worker is brutally murdered, mauled as if by an animal and missing his skin. It’s a pretty horrible murder, so Evan takes it upon himself to reach out to the community for help. He makes a passionate, ignored speech, and kicks off a neighbourhood watch program. The response is less than thrilling, with Bob (Vince Vaughn) wanting a break from raising a teenage girl and Franklin (Jonah Hill) wanting to be a real police officer without passing all those physical, psychological, and intelligence tests. Rounding out the group is Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), a newcomer to town, recently divorced and looking to become active in the community.
As it turns out, he’s going to become more active in the community than he ever could have imagined.That’s because the mauled coworker isn’t due to an animal in the Costco, but instead down to an alien. Turns out, this sleepy little suburban town is going to be ground zero for an alien invasion, and the only guys able to stop it are the men of The Watch.
The script, from Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Jared Stern, is a shambling mess of elements that probably seemed a lot funnier when they were being created. The Watch is a classic ‘and then’ movie. There’s this guy and then he gets killed and then they find out that it was an alien and then there are more aliens and then this guy starts a neighborhood watch… and so on. The elements don’t connect together from scene to scene, stuff just seems to happen. As such, the movie is really hit-or-miss despite a loaded cast of comic actors.
I’m not saying it doesn’t have funny moments – The Watch has some very good work, particularly from Richard Ayoade – but the movie seems really unfocused. Scenes kind of drift together and drift along without much sense of timing. Individual set pieces seem to just hang around a few beats too long. Scenes never end on a really strong joke, they just peter out after wringing every possible drop of potential comedy from a scenario. It’s strange to see the individual scenes drag when the movie itself is a relatively trim 101 minutes and the director, Akiva Schaffer, is the guy behind those Lonely Island SNL digital shorts.
After a while, though, all the energy brought by the performers seems to end up being all for naught since the script lets them down. Sometimes, actors can make the most of a script, and I get the feeling Stiller and company do just that, but the core material is a let-down and Schaffer’s static camerawork does not add much pop to the procedure. It’s a standard summer comedy, albeit one with more biological and anatomical humor than the average, thanks to a lack of any real binding at its core. The Watch has some interesting ideas (and some terrible ones) and can’t really be bothered with developing them or developing much of a plot to hang them on. An attempted serious plot element involving Evan and Abby’s struggle to have children is particularly pointless, serving only as a platform on which Vince Vaughn can hang Viagra jokes.
On all sides, this movie is loaded with interested, talented folks who have done good work in the past and may yet do good work in the future. Still, the movie never gels. It’s as if they all decided they wanted to have fun, hang out, and get paid to do a movie without putting too much effort into the whole task. This is one of those projects that had to be more fun to do than to see on the big screen.