All along the neighborhood watchtower, Appellate Judge Tom Becker kept the view.
The Watch is sort of the Job of summer comedy/action movies.
Just three days before teaser trailers of the film—then titled The Neighborhood Watch—appeared, teenager Trayvon Martin was killed during an altercation with a neighborhood watch person in Florida. As the case started making national headlines, 20th Century Fox released statements addressing the controversy, and clarifying that its film was a comedy about aliens and not about neighborhood watchers; it also shortened the title.
Then came the opening weekend in late July 2012. One week earlier, a lunatic shot up a theater in Colorado where The Dark Knight Rises was playing, a tragedy that cast a pall on movie-going in general. On top of that, the film found itself up against two powerhouses: The Dark Knight Rises, in its second weekend, grabbed the top slot, and Ice Age: Continental Drift, in its third weekend, came in second; The Watch debuted with a weak $12 million box.
The reviews were pretty deadly. Nothing the critics had to say would inspire audiences to run out and plunk down CHC (that's Cold Hard Cash) to watch The Watch.
So, The Watch was pretty much a bust in its theatrical run, but the question is: does it warrant a second (or for most people, first) look on Blu-ray?
Facts of the Case
Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller, Tropic Thunder) is a happy guy. He likes living in low-key Glenview, Ohio. He's active in his community, has a beautiful wife (Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married), and enjoys his job as a manager at the local Costco. But Evan's happiness is shattered when a security guard is murdered inside his store one night after closing.
Determined to see justice done, Evan organizes a neighborhood watch. Unfortunately, despite posting hundreds of flyers and making an impassioned speech at a high school football game, only three men show up to join him: aging, man-cave dwelling, party guy Bob (Vince Vaughn, The Break-up); young, slightly psychotic cop wannabe Franklin (Jonah Hill, 21 Jump Street); and new-to-the-neighborhood Brit Jamarcus (The IT Crowd).
While Evan takes things very—VERY—seriously, the rest of the guys seem more interested in hanging out and having a good time. But all that changes when they make a frightening discovery:
Glenview is being surreptitiously invaded by aliens! And the guys on The Watch are the only ones who can save humanity!
While The Watch isn't an especially good movie, it's not really so bad as to warrant the critical and commercial pillorying it received. It's not an inspired comedy, and there's a been-there/done-that feel to whole thing, but rather than a wretched experience, it's really just overlong and predictable with a smattering of moments that are very funny.
It's hard to say exactly what it is about The Watch that makes it so hard to warm up to. Maybe it's the snide overriding premise of Stiller's Evan as a civic-minded small-town guy who works at Costco and is happy with his life; in movies, people like that are either deranged, ridiculous, or both. Maybe the constant riffing on the 'burbs is getting played out.
Maybe it's that the film meanders so much. The comedy/horror movie mash-up has been done before, and better, and not only doesn't The Watch bring anything new to the table, it takes so long to get to the actual alien stuff, that the film is already running of fumes by the time the "important" stuff comes into play. There's an awful lot of filler here, and the 102-minute runtime could easily lose 15 minutes without anyone noticing.
Maybe it's that so much of it is obvious. Stiller's uptight guy and Vaughn's foul-mouthed, over-aged slacker have become stock characters for these guys; they do it well, but there's also a sense at times that they're phoning it in.
The flip side, of course, is that this familiarity of character is a draw. No one seems to be aching to see Stiller or Vaughn do Cary Grant-style light comedy, and if their shtick is becoming overly shticky, well, that's what happens when you stick around long enough.
The biggest problem is that the whole thing just doesn't gel. There's a lot of raunchy man-talk that goes on too long and ends up feeling a little forced; subplots concerning Evan's marriage, Bob's daughter, and a mysterious and uncomfortably sexy male neighbor tend to throw off the rhythms. Instead of lightheaded silliness, pointed satire, or rousing hilarity, The Watch is just over-processed, too clunky and drawn out to really work.
The Watch (Blu-ray) offers up a pleasing high-def transfer that's clean, clear, and offers solid colors and detail—just as it should, given the film's recent vintage. Ditto the audio, which is clear, fine, and acceptably unexceptional.
Fox didn't exactly top load this with supplements. There's a brief "making of" featurette, a bunch of deleted scenes, some alternate footage of Jonah Hill improvising, a gag reel, a short clip in which cast and crew members talk about what they'd do in an alien invasion, a silly joke featurette in which "the alien" is interviewed, a trailer, and the requisite DVD copy and digital download.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's not a laugh-riot, and it treads uneasily between the kind of action comedy that you'd expect to be family friendly and a more adult-oriented, raunchy, gross-out comedy, but The Watch isn't without its charms.
Chief among these charms is Jonah Hill, who takes a character we've seen before—sometimes played by Hill—and improvs it into something that's sometimes near hysterical. In fact, Hill and the British Ayoade, who underplays to great effect, are excellent reasons not to write off The Watch.
While Stiller and Vaughn are essentially recycling, they still have some funny bits of business; they're pros, and their delivery and timing often overcome dialogue and situations that wouldn't be as funny in lesser hands.
When the film works, it works very well. Some silliness in Bob's man-cave after the guys discover the alien is spot on, as is a scene when the watch guys capture and humiliate an obnoxious teen—a bit over the top, but a bit of wish-fulfillment for anyone who's ever wanted to take down an annoying troublemaker.
While it's all a bit hackneyed, it's still fun watching the film riff on alien movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, of course, Alien. The final action set-piece—man vs. alien, played out in Costco—offers some nicely goofy high-energy thrills, and when the four leads are simply allowed to cut loose and have a good time, The Watch is the kind of moronic fun that it should have been all along.
The Watch isn't a terrible movie, just a disappointing one. But, if you go into it without especially high expectations, you might find yourself enjoying it more than the buzz would suggest. Not a classic, but not the disaster it's purported to be, either.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.