The Watch had troubled beginnings, being renamed from its original title The Neighbourhood Watch after the tragic killing of an American teenager. Marketing was altered at the last minute and the film fell off many peoples radars. The American public mostly ignored it, but was it worth seeing?
When an employee of Costco is killed in suspicious circumstances, Evan (Ben Stiller) takes it upon himself to create a Neighbourhood Watch scheme to investigate the crime and help keep the streets clean. Recruiting locals simple family man Bob (Vince Vaughn); Franklin (Jonah Hill), a rejected police applicant with anger issues; and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), a divorced Englishman hoping to help the community, the newly formed Neighbourhood Watch discover there’s more happening in this small town than over-the-top product placement and Vince Vaughn’s endless rambling: Aliens have landed.
The plot is thin and predictable with no attempt to hide it; an alien invasion that leaves the Earth’s fate in the hands of a rag-tag bunch of incompetents has been done to death, but story isn’t everything in comedy. However, where The Watch falls down in is its incoherent script, which delivers far more misses than hits. The narrative wanders into areas from which little is gained and the payoff is often disappointing; one particular tangent involving suspicious neighbour has a lot of potential but a humourless resolution. With Stiller playing it straight (for the most part), Vaughn is meant to be the main source of comic relief, but the long, drawn-out style of humour attributed to his character is only evidence to the contrary. Minutes upon minutes of Vaughn being surprised over the simplest things (Russian dolls, 3D TV’s) grates as soon as it begins. Hill is decent, if rather exaggerated in his supporting role, and Ayoade is given little to work with but is by far the best thing in this below average affair. The Watch reaches its fairly modest heights when Stiller joins in the stupidity, but this is far too rare.
With Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen (known for penning Pineapple Express and Superbad) on the writing team, you wouldn’t be remiss in having high expectations, but sadly The Watch is mired in cliché and wholly unsure of what it wants to be. Comedic elements involve various gross-out gags such as vulgar bodily fluid jokes, though scenes involving Stiller’s marriage troubles are played uncomfortably straight. The result is a strange blend of the unfunny and failed attempts at pathos, which leave The Watch with little to praise and nothing that makes it stand out from far superior ‘Frat Pack’ films of the past (Zoolander, Dodgeball).
It’s not all bad. There’s enough talent involved that laughs are to be found in The Watch. A montage of Alien snapshots and the inability to open plastic packaging are two of the best. The (practical) special effects are surprisingly well done, if a little basic, and the action-based final 15 minutes provides some of the best moments, especially a slow motion shoot ‘em up scene that will surely bring a smile.
All in all, though, its failures are too great and too many to be forgiven, and we’re left with the question of whether or not The Watch would’ve been missed had it never been released.