Supposing a person had never heard anything about The Watch before seeing it, he or she will be in for quite a surprise. While it may seem that the film is just about a bunch of weirdoes who sign up for the neighborhood watch, there’s actually a whole sci-fi element embedded in the story. But the movie is so unenthused by that plotline that it generally keeps it on the back burner, relying more on the classic strategy of putting funny people in a room together. Predictably, this produced somewhat of a dud, the movie lacking the conviction to really follow through with the craziness that the plot implies.
When one of his employees is mysteriously and brutally killed, Costco manager Evan (Ben Stiller) decides to do something about it. He forms a neighborhood watch, hoping to catch the killer himself. He acquires an oddball group of volunteers (Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade) and sets about taking on the criminal element in his suburban surroundings. He ends up discovering something bigger and far more dangerous: an impending alien invasion. Evan and his ragtag team of suburban commandos take on the alien threat, which is far greater than they could have ever imagined.
It’s a funny concept, but not a lot is really done with it. The plot feels halfhearted at best, the film forcing a sci-fi twist to give it the appearance of a big budget blockbuster. Clearly, the people involved would have much rather just goofed around in the neighborhood watch context, the film only really coming to life when it isn’t concerned with the plot at all. The film gets more out of these characters drinking beers than having them pursue aliens. And though it is indeed a pleasure to see these actors gathered in a room getting inebriated, the lack of care given to the overall plot is really dispiriting.
Even when it’s working, the film might test the patience on some people. A lot of its comedy seems to be based on repetition, certain jokes played over and over until they basically lose all meaning. In one scene, one of the characters expresses delight over a set of Russian nesting dolls. It’s funny to begin with, but it gets old quickly. Too many of the jokes seem to take this tack, slowing down the movie as a whole. Then it pretty much stops dead when a dramatic element is brought in, the entire conflict hinged on weak and lazy reasoning.
That any of it works at all is a testament to the comedic talents of the film’s cast. Ben Stiller doesn’t quite sell the pathos of his character, but he’s still quite adept at getting comedically frazzled. Vince Vaughn isn’t doing much different these days, but his sweet but manic energy is still good for a few laughs. Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade have their own charms as well, and though they don’t reach very much outside their comfort zones, they are still able to deliver their lines with aplomb.
The Watch doesn’t commit hard enough to its concept. Though it may be a little hacky, the premise at least offers the film a trace of identity. In its current form, the film just feels like every other generic modern comedy film. It’s just a bunch of man-child characters riffing while drinking, the alien threat never really feeling dangerous or urgent. The film is still good for a few laughs, but in this rich, modern age of comedy, one really shouldn’t have to settle for a few laughs.