The Watch, 2012.
Directed by Akiva Schaffer.
Starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade.
A neighbourhood watch stumbles upon an alien invasion. They must race against time and fight back in order to save their town and the planet.
Considering the people involved in making The Watch, you may be surprised as to the quality of the finished product. Actually, that’s a bit of a mixed opening as, looking through the cast, there seems to be a rather mixed bag. But a product this movie certainly is. Even with the inclusion of SNL and Lonely Island star Akiva Schaffer on directing duties and Richard Ayoade perhaps lending a surreal bent to this recognisable genre, this movie is nothing more than a product that’s designed to land ends in seats.
While this movie isn’t a complete cynical profit turnover, it’s very far from what you could consider art. That’s probably the best way to describe the quality of the film. Middle of the road in terms of creativity, it barely pretends to have a deep and meaningful message. All the comedy looked like it was rushed or bumbled through. If the whole thing was just handled with a little more thought, care and perfectionism in mind (as opposed to letting the cast improvise dick jokes), this could’ve been a good film. But it wasn’t, so it’s nothing more than a missed opportunity.
The premise is too similar to the better Attack the Block, which itself needed a bit of work. This is just an Americanised version of that. And, like most films that take too much influence from others, The Watch comes off creatively worse. For example, the alien design is always something that can be a highlight despite the shortcomings of the film itself (Attack the Block, while not the best film, had great creature design in spades).
The Watch’s aliens look all too similar to what we’ve seen before. Surely audiences are smart enough that they don’t need to be shown the same alien design as a shorthand icon for ‘this is an alien’. Having an alien automatically gives you the chance to do something interesting. Make the alien as scary as you can (Alien) or even make it loveable (E.T.). But The Watch just takes the cookie cutter route and gives us something we’ve all seen before.
The other aspects of design, look and sound are all fine. Everything works as it should do in terms of production values. Ben Stiller’s lovely skin shines through, we can clearly hear Richard Ayoade’s hair, all the technical aspects work as they should. The problem with such good work, as opposed to art, is that there doesn’t seem to be a distinctive look from any other modern comedy, which links neatly into the actual comedy.
Everything’s the same. I know originality is tricky to pull off as all the stories were told thousands of years ago, but teeth are missing from this film. All the jokes we’ve essentially heard before, and all too recently. All the storylines suffer from the same problem. Performances seem phoned in. I just watched this film with an undying, unrelenting question in my head the entire time: what’s the point in this movie? This was made worse by the fact that, as stated above, this was a missed opportunity and was made by genuinely talented people.
Ben Stiller is a tough one to evaluate. He can be funny, but at the same time can’t claim to be a comedic great. Or at least, he doesn’t give himself the chance to be. He’s so often playing the normal guy in the middle of it all. I mean, why laugh at Zeppo when you could laugh at Groucho? If Ben Stiller could go back to his Zoolander days, things might improve. And this does bring up an interesting question. Can a straight man’s performance, made up more of sacrifice and blending in as the ‘funny one’ gets all the attention, ever be considered as comedically great? But that’s for another time.
As for Vince Vaughn… well, I guess sticking with what you know is an attribute of Vaughn. Oh, he plays a ‘smart’, fast-talking slacker guy character? Who knew? He represents a prevalence in modern comedy that says getting as many words out as possible in the shortest space of time makes you a funny person (see also Marky Mark’s list of names in Ted). These jokes that are not actually jokes have become a supposed shortcut to get laughs which don’t actually work.
Jonah Hill is probably the most interesting character, but saying that rather does a disservice to the word ‘interesting’. He’s a reject from the police who is clearly mentally unstable. And Richard Ayoade, despite his potential, is usually just there. Yeah, his character’s a little weird, but there’s nothing revelatory in any of them.
In summary, as I’m honestly feeling sad writing this review, is that there was huge potential missed. The idea wasn’t original, but the catch-all alien invasion gives such opportunity to do something good, be it scary, exhilarating or funny. In the end, The Watch is something we’ve all seen before. And I guess that’s why I’m ending the review here and not bothering to take anymore time with it, because all you need to know is that you’ve seen it all before. Nothing is original. Everything is the same. It’s just another along the factory line.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ / Movie ★